A helicopter shootout, street explosions and a hijacked airplane — these are common elements in Hollywood action flicks, but they are rarely, if ever, attempted by Taiwanese cinema. That is, until now. An action blockbuster released for the Lunar New Year, Black and White Episode 1: The Dawn of Assault (痞子英雄首部曲:全面開戰) by Tsai Yueh-hsun (蔡岳勳) successfully turns up the heat with action sequences the like of which have never been seen in local productions. The fireworks are complemented by a star-studded cast led by Mark Chao (趙又廷) and China’s Huang Bo (黃渤).
There is already talk of a sequel as the current movie is billed as the prequel to Tsai’s popular TV drama Black and White (痞子英雄).
Set in a fictional metropolis named Harbor City, the movie begins with an illegal diamond deal gone wrong as small-time gangster Xu Dafu, played by Huang, finds there is more than one buyer salivating over his smuggled gems. A group of military men intercept the case of diamonds, killing everyone on the spot but Xu. He is rescued by Hero Wu, played by Chao, a young, upright police officer who believes there is no gray area in justice.
It does not take long before the two are targeted and chased by rival hit men and militants.
The story unfolds when beautiful scientist Fan Ning (Angelababy, aka Yang Ying, 楊穎) comes along, explaining that the whole hullabaloo is not about the diamonds, but what else the case contains: an anti-matter bomb that could destroy humanity if it falls into the wrong hands.
The villains, in this case, are a militant group from Pawanda, a make-believe country in Southeast Asia, which is planning to set off the bomb in the city.
Directed by: Tsai Yueh-hsun (蔡岳勳)
Starring: Mark Chao (趙又廷) as Hero Wu, Huang Bo (黃渤) as Xu Dafu, Angelababy as Fan Ning, Alex To (杜德偉) as Captain Owens, Leon Dai (戴立忍) as Jabbar
Language: In Mandarin and English with Chinese and English subtitles
Running time: 155 minutes
Taiwan release: Today
Naturally, fingers are crossed that the unlikely duo will save the day.
Mostly shot in Kaohsiung with a hefty budget of NT$350 million, the movie is an ambitious project produced by a skilled crew of filmmakers.
The action choreography was created by French martial artist and actor Cyril Raffaelli, who works closely with Luc Besson, while a professional pyrotechnics studio from Hong Kong supervised the explosion scenes.
Director Tsai and his team spent NT$30 million to have an aircraft mock-up made in the US. Now based in Kaoshiung, the plane is Taiwan’s first to be built specially for movies.
Needless to say, the resulting movie is packed with adrenaline-pumping action, all undertaken without stuntmen.
Chao is definitely an action star in the making. He jumps from a bridge, spins a car at high speed and drives through explosions.
There is a sparkling on-screen chemistry between Chao and Huang as the righteous cop and the smart-mouthed gangster. The two partners progress through finely choreographed set pieces that make good use of the diverse landscapes that the port city offers. From industrial docks, ultra modern skyscrapers to a bustling urban center, Kaohsiung looks like an amusement park for filmmakers, which will probably please the movie’s sponsor, the city’s government.
Though the action is top-notch, more often than not, the film prizes style over content.
The story and the motives of the characters are not properly outlined, and plot lines appear and disappear without sufficient exposition. As a result, the film gets a bit baffling toward the end as to what groups of characters are involved.
Nevertheless, director Tsai and his team deserve a round of applause for producing a slick Hollywood-style production.