Get ready for silly. “Badges of Fury” (2013) is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray via Well Go USA on January 7th. And let’s clear this up right way: the film is not a high-octane Jet Li martial thriller; it is a loonie toon action comedy starring Wen Zhang. Part police procedural, part murder mystery, part what-the-hell-is-happening-right-now, “Badges of Fury” is wacky, crappy fun. And the very best way to enjoy this madness is with extremely low expectations and an inner child silliness level cranked up to eleven.
Wen Zhang stars as Wang Bu Er (“Not Stupid” Wang), a Hong Kong police detective out to catch a serial killer who freezes a smile on the faces of his male victims. Accompanied by senior cop Huang Fei Hung (Jet Li; yep that’s his character’s name) and bossy girl boss Angela (Michelle Chen Yan Xi), Wang traces the murders back to aspiring actress Liu Jin Shui (Liu Shi Shi) and her sister Dai Yi Yi (Ada Liu Yan), who takes a suspicious interest in the insurance policies of the victims. A chaotic cavalcade of cameo characters, wacky chases and kung fu fights, and silly situations ensue.
Cameo stars in absurd roles are a big part of the fun in “Badges of Fury”. That is if you already know who they are. There are also some clever meta-cinematic moments that poke fun at the previous Wen Zhang-Jet Li films. Again, great fun if you are already familiar with their films. Much of the film’s humor derives from popular Chinese culture and unfortunately much of the verbal humor doesn’t translate well (or at all) from Mandarin to English. This can result in confusing lacunae and non-sequiturs for many non-Chinese viewers. Lack of comprehension is not a valid reason to bag on a film.
There are plenty of valid reasons to bag on “Badges of Fury”. Director Wong Tze Ming makes a very strong debut but the film suffers from some serious setbacks, due mainly to what appears to be sloppy post-production. Bad editing and sound mixing ruin much of the delicate timing required to pull off live-action cartoon comedy. The slapstick moves too slowly and the “funny” cartoon sounds are badly timed, which renders them the saddest, most embarrassing sounds on earth. The CGI is painfully sloppy, with graphics that often look like a 1999 videogame. The Mainland studio’s attempt to replace the entire population of Hong Kong with Mandarin speaking actors and extras is Stepford Wife creepy. And because the screenplay is shallow and stereotype-heavy, the female roles focus on crying and boobs, not humor. The exception is Zhang’s co-star Michelle Chen Yan Xi, who widely misses her comedy mark.
However. Some of the film’s slop-tastic presentation is offset by the solid team of Wen Zhang and Jet Li. In this, their third film together, they exhibit a relaxed relationship that works very well onscreen. Wen Zhang is a highly intelligent, talented actor with a lot of onscreen charisma and makes a surprisingly good action debut. He is a rising star on the Mainland so get used to seeing him. Martial god Jet Li radically shifts gears here in a role that some viewers have a hard time accepting – a man half a century old, self-serving, lazy, and unwilling to fight. He is obviously having a good time with this role and brings a hearty sense of humor to his jaded character. All the more reason to love Jet Li.
He also has a couple fantasy fights with Collin Chou (Ngai Sing), Wu Jing and Leung Siu Lung but his stunt (and CGI!) doubles should have been more carefully hidden. The choreography by veteran action director Corey Yuen Kwai is just too laissez faire here. Yuen dishes up an absurd amount of high-flying wire-fu that is meant to be nothing more than cartoony fun but like so many other aspects of the film, it is sloppy. Still, the fights have all of the standard fancy entertainment moves, and with golden oldsters like Fung Hak On, Chow Keung and Beardy Leung Kar Yan (and their doubles) in cameo roles, the kung fu clowning is over the top wackiness.
Veteran producer Sarah Choi Bo Chu, who is responsible for major blockbusters like “Kung Fu Hustle”, “CJ7”, “Confucius” and “Fearless” seems to also be pretty laissez faire about “Badges of Fury”. The film feels in many ways like the nonchalant older generation trying to herd an undisciplined gaggle of new generation film makers and actors. Youthful energy runs high and nobody is in control. Merry-go-round broken down.
“Badges of Fury” seems to make people really mad. Serious Jet Li fans who simply cannot envision him in a comedic role are mad. Serious martial arts fans who don’t like crappy wirefu are mad. Hong Kong cinema fans are mad at the Mainland’s takeover of the Hong Kong police procedural genre. This is a just a whole lot of mad about a movie that is not meant to be taken seriously. At all. Take a short break from serious cinema, lower those expectations and crank your inner child up to eleven for “Badges of Fury”.
THE DVD: The Well Go USA DVD is a NTSC 16:9 Widescreen release with Stereo/5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital and works smoothly on dvd player and computer. The film content has not been edited for American release and runs 98 minutes. It is in Mandarin with options for English dub and English, Spanish or French subtitles. Bonus features include a “Making of” featurette with fun behind-the-scenes glimpses of the action; interviews with the director, cast and action choreographer; and the film trailer. There are also trailers for upcoming Well Go releases.