×

The Viral Factor

Globetrotting, gun toting, car chases, explosions: Dante Lam's "The Viral Factor" has all the action-junkie goods and then some, including the most jaw-dropping scenes of plummeting in recent Hong Kong stunt choreography.

With:
With: Jay Chou, Nicholas Tse, Lin Peng, Andy Tien, Bai Bing, Liu Kai-chi, Carl Ng, Philip Keung, Elaine Jin, Crystal Lee. (Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Bahasa, Arabic dialogue)

Globetrotting, gun toting, car chases, explosions: Dante Lam’s “The Viral Factor” has all the action-junkie goods and then some, including the most jaw-dropping scenes of plummeting in recent Hong Kong stunt choreography. The fates of two brothers on opposite sides of the law uniting against virus traffickers prove just as tragic as the protags’ destinies in Lam’s crimers “The Stool Pigeon” and “Beast Stalker,” but the helmer’s blockbuster ambitions, striving to make every move a money shot, relegate human drama to the backseat. Asian B.O. should be healthy and ancillary biz pandemic for Lam’s latest, released Stateside by China Lion.

In an operation to escort bacteriologist Kenner from Jordan to Norway, IDC agent Jon (Taiwan pop idol Jay Chou) and ex-fiancee Ice (Bai Bing) are betrayed and shot by fellow agent Sean (Andy Tien), who steals a deadly virus sample developed by Kenner. When told he’ll be paralyzed within two weeks, Jon returns to Beijing to visit his ailing mother (Elaine Jin). She bids him to find Man Yeung (Nicholas Tse), the elder son she abandoned 31 years ago, at the same time she ditched her compulsive gambler husband, Man Tin (Liu Kai-chi).

Popular on Variety

Jon befriends virus specialist Dr. Rachel Kan (Lin Peng) on a flight to Kuala Lumpur to look for the brother he never knew. He finds Man Yeung at the airport, waiting to kidnap Rachel under Sean’s orders. Jon rescues Rachel and reconnects with his father and niece Champ (Crystal Lee). Despite begin a hardened criminal, Man Yeung must join forces with Jon to save Champ, Rachel and her mother from Sean’s ruthless scheme to profit from the virus.

Made on a $17 million budget with such Hollywood action trappings as far-flung locations and aerial and marine combat, the film feels bent on giving its investors their money’s worth. While the scenes in Jordan mimic American war films set in the Middle East, the production crew scores more original coups in Kuala Lumpur, switching slickly from the technical razzmatazz of helicopters threading their way around skyscrapers to savage mano-a-manos in gritty hellholes or wickedly tight spots. Gunfights and explosions are audaciously played out in real urban locations swarming with people and vehicles, all unfolding with high tension, without losing sight of continuity.

As suggested by the Chinese title, which means “uphill battle,” the action designed by Lam and intrepidly executed by stunt choreographer Chin Ka-lok has a velocity and a loose-canon recklessness that mirror the intense protags and their struggle to survive against the odds. Especially striking are the frequency and variety of ways in which characters fall from lethal heights — a visual metaphor for Lam’s recurring themes of guilt, suffering and atonement, just as the Man family’s physical handicaps (especially Jon’s impending paralysis) symbolize their inner dysfunction.

Auds riveted by the meticulous plotting and psychological depth of “Beast Stalker,” “Fire of Conscience” or “The Stool Pigeon” may be disappointed with this pic’s head-spinning pace and impatience with storytelling. The screenplay by Lam and Jack Ng, who also contributed to Lam’s last three efforts, is strictly utilitarian. An early flashback to Jon’s relationship with Ice is arguably the shortest love story ever told, and Jon’s gradual compromise of his principles as a law enforcer in favor of blood ties is not crafted enough to constitute a moving emotional journey. In Lam’s world, women usually serve as men’s conscience; here, they function merely as hostages.

Since limited time is allotted to meaningful verbal exchange, the thesps have to condense highly charged feelings into a few closeups or reaction shots. Still, they manage to pack some emotional punch into a few key scenes. Tse practically grabs the pic from Chou (who looks perpetually dumbstruck) and runs away with it; Lam is expert at portraying desperadoes, and Tse fits the role like a glove, wearing the precariousness and fatigue of existence on his face like scars. Liu, a Lam regular, turns up the intensity a few notches whenever he’s around, while young Crytsal Lee is expressive beyond her years.

Chung Wai-chiu’s breakneck editing gives the impression of one long series of jump cuts, while Kenny Tse’s lensing works the camera like a SWAT team, yielding maximum swooping and swerving from helicopter shots. Peter Kam’s thundering score would be better suited for intergalactic battles, and in general, the dynamic sound effects keep the viewer perpetually on edge. Other tech credits are top-flight.

The Viral Factor

Hong Kong-China

Production: An Emperor Motion Picture (in Hong Kong)/Huayi Brothers Media Corp. (in China)/China Lion Film Distribution (in U.S.) release presented in association with Beijing Universe Starlight Culture Media Co., Huayi Brothers Media Corp. (International sales: Emperor Motion Picture, Hong Kong.) Produced by Albert Lee, Solon So, Wang Zhonglei. Executive producers, Albert Yeung. Co-executive producers, Solon So, Wang Zhongjun. Directed by Dante Lam. Screenplay, Jack Ng, Lam.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, Super 35), Kenny Tse; editor, Chung Wai-chiu; music, Peter Kam; art directors, Alex Mok, Joel Chong; costume designer, Fung Kwun-mount; re-recording mixers (Dolby Digital 7.1), George Lee; visual effects supervisor, Yee Kwok-leung; visual effects, Free-D Workshop; stunt coordinator, Chin ka-lok; line producers, Jack Ng, Allyan Too, Sharif Majali, Wang Jinghua; assistant director, Jessica Lee; second unit camera, David Tsou; casting, Crystal Chooi (Malaysia), Sima Najjar (Jordan), Wang Wei (Beijing). Reviewed at UA Times Square, Hong Kong, Jan. 19, 2012. Running time: 122 MIN.

With: With: Jay Chou, Nicholas Tse, Lin Peng, Andy Tien, Bai Bing, Liu Kai-chi, Carl Ng, Philip Keung, Elaine Jin, Crystal Lee. (Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Bahasa, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Mike Lowrey (WILL SMITH), Marcus Burnett

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Crossing $100 Million Worldwide

    Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life,” the third entry in the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led action series, ruled over the global box office and is expected to cross the $100 million mark through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The threequel, directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, scored $38.6 million overseas, along [...]

  • The Case

    Bac Films Closes Deals on Psychological Thriller 'The Case'

    Bac Films has closed several deals on Bernard Stora’s “The Case,” a psychological thriller set in the South of France starring Niels Arestrup (“At Eternity’s Gate,” “A Prophet”). The film had its market premiere at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, a five-day showcase of French movies wrapping on Jan. 20. Arestrup stars [...]

  • #iamhere

    Gaumont Clinches Deals on French-Korean Romcom '#iamhere' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Gaumont has clinched a raft of deals on Eric Lartigau’s Korea-set romantic comedy #iamhere which had its market premiere at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French cinema in Paris. Headlined by Alain Chabat (“Valerian”) and Bae Doona (“Sense8”), the film was penned by Lartigau and Thomas Bidegain (“Sisters Brothers”). Chabat stars as a prominent French chef [...]

  • Mike (WILL SMITH), Marcus (MARTIN LAWRENCE)

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Towers Over 'Dolittle,' '1917'

    Universal’s “Dolittle” and “1917” found out what “Bad Boys” will do when they come for you at the box office. Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life,” the third entry in the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led series, beat expectations and towered over the competition during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. “Bad Boys for Life” earned [...]

  • Charlize Theron31st Annual Producers Guild Awards,

    Charlize Theron Says Megyn Kelly's 'Bombshell' Reaction Video Was 'Really Validating'

    Charlize Theron says it was “really emotional” to watch Megyn Kelly’s half-hour response video to “Bombshell,” the Oscar-nominated feature film that depicts the sexual harassment Kelly (as played by Theron) and several other women experienced from Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The video, which Kelly posted to her YouTube Channel on Jan. 9, shows Kelly, [...]

  • (center) George MacKay as Schofield in

    '1917,' 'Succession' Among Top PGA Award Winners

    “1917” continued its string of major awards season wins on Saturday night, earning the Producers Guild of America award for best picture. Coupled with its win for best picture, drama at the Golden Globes, the WWI movie is officially the front runner for Oscar’s top prize. “It’s a film that is a tribute to all [...]

  • Bong Joon Ho, Jane Rosenthal, David

    Netflix Praised by 'The Irishman,' 'Marriage Story' Filmmakers at Producers Guild Panel

    Streaming giant Netflix received strong support from filmmakers behind “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” at the Producers Guild of America’s nominees panel on Saturday at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Jane Rosenthal, one of “The Irishman” producers, said Netflix embraced the vision that she and Martin Scorsese had for the $170 million film. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content