Female action heroines have been a long-standing staple in Hong Kong cinema. While the concept may be new to Western audiences, courtesy of films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long)" and the Hong Kong-cinema inspired "Charlie's Angels", Asian audiences have been watching female protagonists kicking butt for at least four decades, such as with Cheng Pei-pei's martial arts films from the Sixties, or the film from the early Nineties that probably inspired the new-and-updated "Charlie's Angels", "The Heroic Trio (Tong fong sam hop)". Today, female-driven exploitation action films are still popular in the former British Colony, such as Corey Yuen's 2002 effort "So Close (Chik yeung tin sai)", which is now available via Hong Kong-import VCD and DVD (Region 3 only). And though "So Close" suffers from a disposable story and throwaway characters, the film has the goods when it comes to the principal reason why you would want to watch it in the first place-- watching women kick ass.
Fueling comparisons to "Charlie's Angels", three women are at the center of "So Close". Lynn (Shu Qi, seen recently in "The Transporter") and her sister Sue (Zhao Wei of "Shaolin Soccer") are for-hire assassins who make full use of their athleticism and IT skills (!) to execute their contracts, with the former providing the firepower and the latter providing support in the background. After their most recent assignment, which involves killing the corrupt president of a computer company, a dedicated cop named Hong (Karen Mok, also from "Shaolin Soccer") ends up being hot on their trail.
However, as per how things usually unfold in the 'hired killers' genre, Lynn and Sue end up becoming the targets of the people who hired them in the first place (witness John Woo's "The Killer" or Patrick Leung's "Beyond Hypothermia"). With the bad guys closing in, the sisters may have little choice but to team up with Hong, who would like nothing better than to put them behind bars. And if things weren't hairy enough, Sue aspires to step out from under her elder sister's shadow to do some running-and-gunning on her own, throwing caution to the wind in the process. Meanwhile Lynn faces a crisis of conscience when an old flame (Korean actor Song Seung-heon, who offers the same sort of bland acting he delivered in "Calla") shows up on her doorstep, forcing her to contemplate leaving life as a hired killer behind.
Granted, the attempts to flesh out the characters and their respective back-stories are mediocre and seem more like filler than anything else. After all, the previous screen credit of the film's scribe, Jeff Lau, is serving as an accountant on the 1999 indie film "Redemption". However, I doubt that the target audience of a film like "So Close" would be interested in the nuances of character development or the subtleties of storytelling. No, they are there to see the actresses kick, and kick high they do.
If the name of director Corey Yuen sounds familiar, it is because he has worked on a number of films, both as director and action choreographer, including "The Transporter", "The One", and "Kiss of the Dragon". Yuen puts his martial arts choreography experience to bear on the action sequences of "So Close", and it shows. Blending CGI and wire-fu, "So Close" is peppered with action sequences that will please fans of Hong Kong action, with plenty of aerial moves, guns being flung through the air, and double-fisted shootouts. Some of the standout sequences include the high-octane opening action sequence in which Lynn takes out an office building full of disposable henchmen, a womano-a-womano catfight between Lynn and Hong, a car chase that is monitored via satellite, and the expected final showdown against the chief bad guy and his army of gun-toting thugs and martial arts experts.
Aside from handling the physical demands of their roles, the actresses adequately service the thesping-optional requirements of the film. Shu Qi, whose career has been advanced more by her looks rather than acting ability, is competent as the devil-may-care Lynn. Zhao is easily the most interesting person on the screen, playing a naïve young woman who is eager to go out on her own and prove herself. Finally, Mok is a lot of fun to watch as a tough cop with the brains and the brawn necessary to crack the case.
For a guilty-pleasure time-waster, it is difficult to go wrong with "So Close". Though the script seems to sleepwalk through its storytelling obligations, this is more than made up for by the inventive action choreography of director Yuen. Infused with distinctive Hong Kong-style action sequences that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, "So Close" comes very close to making "Charlie's Angels" look like a sedate Jane Austen-style period costume drama.
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