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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

CITY UNDER SIEGE -- DVD review by porfle


Some movies are like a feast for entertainment-starved viewers.  The Hong Kong action/sci-fi flick CITY UNDER SIEGE (2010), on the other hand, is like a big bag of potato chips.  But they're some pretty tasty potato chips.

Aaron Kwok (THE STORM RIDERS) stars as Sunny, a bumbling clown in a traveling circus that's passing through Malaysia.  Sunny dreams of following in his late father's footsteps and headlining in the "Flying Dagger" act, but the position is already filled by the vain, cruel Cheung Tai Chu (Collin Chou). 

When Cheung and his circus cohorts stumble across an underground laboratory left by the Japanese in WWII, their search for gold nets them all a lungful of experimental gas intended to create super warriors.  Sunny escapes before they can silence him, but everyone involved begins to mutate in alarming ways during the boat ride back to Hong Kong.  While Sunny undergoes an ultimately more benign change, the others transform into grotesque juggernauts intent on grand theft and citywide destruction.



Comedy and pathos jostle for our attention throughout CITY UNDER SIEGE with Kwok initially playing Sunny for laughs.  An early manifestation of the virulent gas results in him temporarily ballooning in size as Kwok dons a pretty convincing fat suit.  While waddling down the road, Sunny encounters TV newslady Angel (Qi Shu, THE TRANSPORTER) and fixes her flat tire.  Angel later loses her job at the station and becomes Sunny's manager, exploiting him when his burgeoning superpowers turn him into a local hero. 

Things finally kick into high gear when the bad mutants go after Sunny, convinced that an antidote for their painfully extreme ugmo-ism can be found in his blood.  The first fight scene is lots of frenetic fun, reminding me somewhat of the mutant clashes in the "X-Men" movies (to which you'll probably catch a couple of obvious references). 

Jacky Wu (KILLZONE) and Jingchu Zhang are very good as Suen and Tai, two soon-to-be-married cops who specialize in catching supernatural criminals.  The combination of their martial arts skills (Wu is in typically good form here) with plenty of hokey-looking wirework results in some pretty thrilling combat action.  The choreography is good, the CGI isn't overdone, and the direction by Benny Chan (ROBIN-B-HOOD, NEW POLICE STORY) is crisp and stylish, with little or no shaky-cam or distracting editing. 

A slow middle section tracks Sunny's comical rise to fame as a hero and explores the usual mushy relationship stuff.  This is followed by a dazzling battle sequence in a TV studio that pulls out all the stops, filled with fireworks, explosions, lots of hand-to-hand combat and imaginative destruction, and further horrifying mutations as the bad guys continue to evolve (the CGI-enhanced makeup effects are fine) and get even more evil. 



The film takes a sharp turn into tragedy at this point, going for our tear ducts with a maudlin death scene and a sappy song montage that grinds things to a halt.  Finally the action gets back on track when a lovestruck Cheung, now in full body-suit monster mode, kidnaps Angel as Sunny follows in hot pursuit.  Their final clash takes place on a busy four-lane highway with vehicular mayhem galore--the super-powered chaos may remind you of SUPERMAN II at times--and is loaded with some amazing stunts.  (Even the fake wirework is impressive.)  It all comes down to those flying daggers in the end, and another tearful scene of the sort that Hollywood is always getting derided for these days. 

The DVD from Funimation is in 16:9 widescreen with Cantonese and English 5.1 surround sound.  Subtitles are in English.  Bonus features consist of a making-of featurette and trailers for this and other Funimation releases.  The film comes as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack--this review is for the DVD only. 

While probably in no danger of becoming a classic any time soon, CITY UNDER SIEGE comes through with enough mindless mayhem and agitatin' action to feed the part of our brains that craves hokey cinematic junk food.  It's all that and a bag of greasy chips.


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