For those of you uniformed, Dante Lam is an ACTION film director. That’s right. You read it. ACTION. All caps. He stages some of the slickest, most vivid shootouts and car chases in all of current filmdom. You walk into a bar and pull a gun? You have Dante Lam photograph it. You’re racing down the streets at breakneck speed with sparks flying off your tail? You have Dante Lam film that puppy. You’re lunging and diving and hurling your body through an empty warehouse all the while being chased by gangsters, hoodlums, crooked cops, or even Nazis? You hire Dante Lam, you give him a good budget, and you put on your running shoes.
Are we clear?
IDC Agent Jon (played by Jay Chou) is one man on a team of top agents escorting a criminal biological weapons scientist to a distant land. However, an unexpected double-cross leaves Jon’s sexy agent/girlfriend dead and Jon with a bullet lodged in his brain. The prognosis? That ain’t good. Within months, the bullet will leave him completely paralyzed. What does he do?
(Well, here’s where I have some problems with the script …)
Instead of letting his impending paralysis fuel a gun-blazing mission for vengeance, Jon instead visits his mother, learns he has a long-lost brother, and decides to reconcile the family before his eventual catatonic state.
And from there, things don’t get much better in THE VIRAL FACTOR. Like I said, what should’ve been a blood-ridden, bullet-flying exploration of one man’s quest for vengeance instead becomes a story largely fueled by circumstance: as fate would have it, Jon’s brother Yeung (Nicholas Tse) is a crook-with-a-heart-of-gold who just happens to have ties to the very same men who killed Jon’s gal-pal and put the bullet in his brain. Throw in a cute doctor (Lin Peng), a giggly niece, and a gimpy father, and VIRAL turns more ‘wimpy’ by the moment.
In case you missed it, THE VIRAL FACTOR disappointed me, and that’s mostly because I personally believe that, based on his record, Lam can’t handle moments of human drama. In fact, I’d argue that the pacing of the film was slowed down tremendously by these moments trying to explore a complex past of people who needed to stay focused on the present. Instead of plucking on our heartstrings, the script should’ve been torturing our guts, much the same way the audience was on the edge of its seat throughout the opening salvo gunplay and car crashes. This is slick violence – cinema violence – done the way only Lam does best: with a veneer of blood and a coat of gloss. Thick gloss. Thick and meaty gloss. I’m telling you that in Lam’s capable hands even the grit and grime has gloss.
To the man’s credit, he moves the film along as best as possible, though it’s hard to miss the awkwardness in some scenes. At two hours plus, VIRAL is thirty minutes too long, and that probably could’ve been reached if there weren’t so many slow-motion sequences dragging even the action to some screeching halts. Good grief, Dante, use some restraint! And, next time, get a better script doctor while you’re at it!
THE VIRAL FACTOR is produced by Emperor Motion Pictures, and its DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Well Go USA. How does it look? Well, you foolish fiend! Haven’t you been listening? This is Dante Lam we’re talking about, and I’ll tell you for the record that Dante Lam has forgotten more about crafting an action film than Michael Bay will ever know. It looks and sounds awesome, though there was some awfully muddled dialogue in the film’s quieter moments. The Blu-ray has a ‘making of’ featurette and some brief cast & crew interviews.
RECOMMENDED only for fans of Dante Lam’s films and/or Asian action cinema. At two-and-one-half stars, THE VIRAL FACTOR isn’t the best film in Lam’s arsenal. At best, it’s a curious misfire – one replete with way too much slow-mo and too few bullets for its own good – that could’ve been a bigger sensation with more meat on the bones. As it is, the story unfolds all a bit too conveniently for its own good, wasting some solid action pieces around some paper-thin logic and listless moments of drama.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the good folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD screener of THE VIRAL FACTOR for the expressed purposes of completing this review.