Director Benny Chan has packed Heroic Duo
with sophisticated weaponry, high-speed car chases and dizzying stunts, including one stomach-quivering sequence in which a character traverses two skyscrapers using a wobbly, metal stepladder. Noticeably absent are high-wire kung fu acrobatics; Chan, who first gained notoriety with kung fu fantasy Magic Crane
, apparently no longer wants anything to do with Chinamen in robes—unless they're behind the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa.
's plot, however, is as creaky as any martial artsploitation flick. Leon Lai makes his action-hero debut here, playing a police hypnotist drafted to foil evil Francis Ng, who is trying to get his hands on some precious gems. Lai, perennial romantic-comedy star and one of the original "heavenly Kings" of Canto-pop, makes a sympathetic leading man. When we find that Ng has taken Lai's family hostage, we eagerly anticipate his inevitable revenge. For an action movie that lingers over a few touchy-feely scenes, Lai is an inspired selection. Lai for the most part leaves the leaping chest kicks and pistol wielding to police counterpart Kin, played by Ekin Cheng (Twins Effect
), and instead uses his powers of subconscious persuasion to free his wife (played by newcomer Xu Jinglei) from Ng's grasp. For Lai, acting the heartsick husband longing to be reunited with his significant other comes naturally. Lines such as "The greatest happiness in my life is to be with you" sound as if they were lifted from his 1996 feel-good romancer Comrade: Almost a Love Story
. (Lai tells TIME that he relished the chance to at least try on a more macho role: "It is easier and more interesting to play an [action hero] than to play the same role over and over again.")
In between the car chases and gunplay, Chan lays in plenty of the good-natured banter and macho high jinks that are standard issue in buddy-cop pictures from Hong Kong to Hollywood. At one point, Ekin Cheng banishes a junior officer to the inside of a huge fish tank, where the underling must count the number and variety of each fish—while wearing only underwear.
Abandoning his cultural kung fu roots may have proved to be a wise business move for Chan—Arclight, a U.S. film distributor based in Australia, has already bought the movie's international and U.S. distribution and licensing rights for a seven-figure sum. (Chan's 1998 Jackie Chan vehicle Who Am I? and Gen-X Cops were both distributed overseas by Columbia TriStar.) Like his previous action flicks, Heroic Duo goes for the mainstream jugular, but this time Benny Chan devotes enough screen time to character development so that you care (slightly) about these characters before they're blown to smithereens.