A pall hangs over “Flash Point,” the new cops-vs.-Triad entry from busy H.K. action specialists Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen, and it’s only partly due to the long waits between displays of Yen’s new interest in mixed martial arts. A plot defeated by creative exhaustion is matched with an attitude endorsing the sorts of tactics that suit a police state. Plainly disappointing as a well-sustained kick-butt thriller, and politically toxic, the pic opened in early August to strong Mainland B.O. and upward thumbs, and looks to perform along the lines of the duo’s last hit, “SPL.”
Detective Ma (Yen) begins and ends the saga, set in 1996 prior to the H.K. turnover to China, by stating (in voiceover) the simple credo, “My duty as a cop is to catch thieves.” “Catching,” though, hardly describes what Ma actually does. His undercover partner Wilson (Louis Koo) may have successfully worked his way inside the rising Triad gang led by Tony (Collin Chou), but given Ma’s reckless approach — he’s the kind of guy who opts for running kicks to the groin over talking things through — Wilson’s cover is bound to be exposed.
Paradoxically, despite Ma’s rule-breaking style and Yen’s obvious gifts for waging and staging mixed martial arts (which fuses Western boxing, Muay Thai kicking and a Brazilian brand of Jujitsu called Capoeira), the filmmakers and screenwriter Szeto Kam-Yuen don’t create enough set pieces and action blocks early enough to grab the viewer. There’s barely enough onscreen in the first two acts to indicate that Yen’s cop-hero has the right chop-socky stuff, which is sure to make genre auds itchy.
“Flash Point” is remarkably routine for being one of the first films to consciously promote Bruce Lee’s long-held ideal of a fusion of every popular martial arts style, and offers no reason to be the slightest concerned when Wilson nearly dies, or Ma appears outgunned and outmanned, or when Tony’s crew seems poised for Triad supremacy. A strained kidnap subplot finally unleashes the brand of action — between Ma and Tony in brutal combat, at the 76-minute mark in the 87-minute-long pic — that fans would be demanding all along.
There’s nothing here offering the pleasures of “SPL’s” faceoffs involving vet superstar Sammo Hung, but Yen’s intensely physical approach to mixed martial arts is so visceral it will distract some from the pic’s message that any method deployed by cops, no matter how illegal, is justifiable.