God bless the films of Donnie Yen! To me, he’s pretty much the Chinese version of America’s Sylvester Stallone. I mean that to say he makes probably as many good Hong Kong actioners as he does palatable ones (just like Stallone), but there’s almost always a terrific sense of quality to the release, making it watchable if not entertaining. And Donnie’s done this sort of thing before – an undercover cop in way too deep for his and his family’s own good – but director Clarence Fok attacks this average script with some above-average fight choreography and one of the slickest car chase sequences this side of the FAST & FURIOUS franchise.
Buckle up, kids. Donnie Yen is coming to town!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Donnie Yen is Detective Chen Zilong – but the criminal underworld kowns him as ‘Dragon’ Chen, a dangerous but effective enforcer. When rivalries explode with the reappearance of an old enemy and a brutal murder, the Triads close ranks and unleash a series of executions – with Chen at the top of the list.”
That’s really all one need know about SPECIAL I.D.’s story to make the basic decision of whether you’re interested or not in the motion picture. You want Donnie Yen? This has Donnie Yen! You want cops and robbers? You’ve got cops and robbers! You want the promise of action? Well, with Donnie Yen being caught in between those cops and robbers, you can bet there’s going to be enough action to fill up these 99 minutes and then some. Granted, there may not be nothing else of note – there’s a hinted at romantic storyline between Yen and his female partner (Jing Tian), and there’s some modest exploration of staying true to one’s family – but everything else is really just fodder filling the space between one action sequence after another. On that note, I.D. indeed gets high marks.
In fact, SPECIAL I.D. opens up with a narration that hopes to set the stage (so to speak) about where we are and what’s a stakes; but, in retrospect, it really adds so very little to the tale. That could be because I’ve seen more than my fair share of the foreign Triads-and-cops pictures. Still, the exposition isn’t needed because everything learned subsequent to hearing the set-up really is of little importance to ‘the rest of the story.’
Like Stallone, Yen has the charisma needed to make a picture so loosely assembled at the seams work. He has a screen presence that can be matched by few in this day and age, and I.D. works best when it’s in his capable hands. He even proves to have solid comic timing when the script requires it, and despite having little chemistry with Tian as possible soulmates the two play off one another naturally in that ol’ tried and true ‘good cop / bad cop’ dynamic. That works so well, in fact, I’d definitely love to see another installment pairing them up under all new circumstances and maybe a meatier script.
Still, if it’s action you want, you can do far worse than spending a few hours with SPECIAL I.D. That alone makes this one worth my enthusiastic thumbs up.
SPECIAL I.D. (2013) is produced by Beijing Starlit Movie and TV Culture, China Film Group, and China Movie Channel. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Well Go USA Entertainment. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Chinese spoken language release with English subtitles available. Also – and pay attention here, readers – there is an English-dubbing track available; while I generally don’t endorse them, I do this time out because in several sequences the dialogue simply happened too fast for me to keep up with reading them. (Tip: use the dubbing, you’ll thank me for it.) As for the technical specifications, this is one smartly assembled action piece, and the highest quality sights and sounds accompany it. Lastly, if it’s special features you want, then you’re in for a disappointment: there’s only an all-too-brief (4 minutes) ‘making of’ bit that works more like a bloated theatrical trailer than anything else.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Like some Hong Kong Sylvester Stallone, Donnie Yen turns out one solid action picture after another. There may not be a whole lot that distinguishes deep undercover cop drama SPECIAL I.D. from the his next release, but the quality fight and action choreography here was about as good as you’re ever gonna get this side of the wide, wide sea. Sure, maybe it’s all a bit predictable in the big finish … but isn’t that half the fun?
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of SPECIAL I.D. by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.