The Viral Factor (directed/screenplay/story by Dante Lam, story by Candy Leung, story by Wai Lun Ng): I caught Dante Lam’s Viral Factor back in January. I liked it a whole lot. It features Andy On from Mad Detective, the guy who played Detective Ho. Viral Factor is one of those movies that manages to hit every cliche in the book for its genre (~dreams as metaphors~, convenient callbacks, drowning, and there’s probably a scene where two dudes point empty guns at each other but I don’t remember), but everything is so well executed that it doesn’t even matter. It’s like watching someone play a video game that you know very well, but the player is so skillful that you can’t look away. The cast is pretty strong, too. Jay Chou is probably best known for being the biggest of the three or four good things about Green Hornet, and Nicholas Tse is an HK vet. I remember seeing and enjoying Time & Tide in high school, and I’m looking forward to watching that one again. (edit: I wrote this review like two months ago. I’ve since gone back and watched Time And Tide, and it is this weird, unfocused, awkward, entertaining little action movie. It’s also very post-Matrix, so the bullet time looks awful, but the chase/shootout in the apartment building rules.)
The most surprising thing about Viral Factor is how videogame-inflected it was. There were several action scenes that weren’t direct rips, but at least felt inspired by games. The opening is straight out of Call of Duty, there’s an Uncharted-style climbing sequence that comes complete with air conditioners in the way (which I thought was introduced in Uncharted 3 back in November, so it’s probably coincidence), several different platforming sequences, and finally, a platforming/fighting sequence in a transport ship. Obviously all of this stuff has been in movies before, but something about the way this one was shot and staged thrust the idea of a video game inspiration into my head, and I still can’t let go of it. I wish I had more concrete examples to give. I need to see this again so I can maybe take some notes. But the video game idea kicked around and actually made me like the movie a bit more, as they chopped up and remixed classic video game tropes into new or perfected forms.
Heightening the video game feel was the sequence when Man Yeung, played by Nicholas Tse, escapes from police custody. It put me in mind of that sequence late in Metal Gear Solid 2 where Raiden is running around nude, but filtered through Heath Ledger’s approach to the Joker in The Dark Knight. Tse has a reckless disregard for his own life, but he basically stumbles and fights his way through a bunch of guards (and pepper spray!) before making his way almost to safety… at which point he leaps off a walkway, falls a couple stories before crashing into a parking lot, steals a car, and escapes. It’s almost comical, but it’s basically exactly how the regenerative health in modern games would look in real life. An idiot, rushing headlong into death, but somehow surviving for no good reason.
I really liked how relentless this movie was. It opens with a stylish bang, spends maybe 15 or 20 minutes setting up the rest of the plot, and then it’s on. There’s a pretty crazy shotgun bit (you can see it in the trailer), wild car wrecks, well-done slow motion shots, guys swinging over gaps firing guns… I can’t even remember what else. It’s an action movie that goes all the way in. I cackled at this movie like the wicked witch of the west, and the people I saw it with did, too. It’s real nice to see all these tropes and gimmicks I’ve grown up totally in love with, down to the dynamic duo of good and evil teaming up to fight eviler, refined and perfected.
What’s cool is that the characters sort of fit that mold, too. Chou plays a doomed cop, Tse a villain who Isn’t That Bad, Really, and Andy On plays a dirty cop who’s out for himself. I’m not sure who plays her, but the little girl who plays Champ, Tse’s daughter and Chou’s niece, is great. She’s spunky and direct and yes, she gets kidnapped. (And tossed into the ocean!) She is also exactly like basically every single girl who shows up in these movies. A little sad, a super-snarky dick, and adorable. Their father is a broken, but dedicated, old man who regrets his sins. Chou’s mother is kind, but kept a horrible secret for years. There’s a dream that echoes throughout the movie with special meaning.
Viral Factor basically doubles down on every cliche in the action movie book and makes it out unscathed. It’s a tense and fun example of an HK action flick, without being overbearing about its central gimmick or wasting a bunch of time trying to make the movie seem like it has something important to say about morality or whatever. Viral Factor: it’s a movie where people get shot and die in interesting and exciting ways.