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'Special ID' review: Action at its most defective

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Special ID

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"Special ID" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA.

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As a cop without an education, Detective Chen Zilong (Donnie Yen) wasn't really cutting it as an officer. But once he was sent undercover, Chen became known as a loyal criminal fighter known as Dragon. A short-tempered dynamo named Sunny (Andy On) begins working his way up the ranks of the crime syndicate and local crime lord Chang Mao Xiong (Collin Chou) concocts a plan including a hitman named Blade (Zhang Hanyu) and sending in Dragon to take care of it before it gets too out of hand. However, Chen already has his hands full clashing heads with his well-educated, over-devoted, by the books partner Fang Jing (Jing Tian).

Donnie Yen has given us some really spectacular martial arts films including "Flash Point," the "Ip Man" films, and "Dragon," so there's a standard that Mr. Yen has risen to thanks to the greatness of previous films. But "Special ID" falls short of any sort of expectations. Even after its magnificently promising trailers, Clarence Fok's Chinese action film is a stone's throw away from being a complete and utter waste of time.

The film begins with a vicious game of Mahjong featuring a table full of criminals and the undercover Chen. After the goons shove the tiles of the game down the throats of Chen's men, the scene culminates with a fight that should be brutal and engaging. Instead we get this silly grope-fest featuring slapstick comedy such as footprints remaining on faces after being kicked and slipping on Mahjong tiles as if the floor was made of banana peels.

Chen's motives get hazy soon after that. Even though he's an undercover cop, he tends to stand up for thugs and risks his life even when the situation doesn't call for it. Scenes such as Xiong cutting Chen's mother Mary's (Rain Lau) hair and Sunny’s urinalysis scene are completely unnecessary. Neither scene is comedic or informative and the film wouldn't suffer in the slightest if either sequence was cut from the film altogether. That's around the time Chen's real mission kicks into high gear; "you're going to be a cop pretending to be a thug working with the police with a special identity."

Why are women in Chinese action films so difficult to tolerate? Fang Jing is a police officer who doesn't mess around and is more than capable of taking care of herself, but you literally want to smack the crap out of her as soon as she opens her mouth. She's just fuming at all times. There's supposed to be this heavy contrast of educated and calculated and uncultured and spontaneous between Fang Jing and Chen, but it just seems like Chen is getting yelled at for doing his best or asking questions or getting the job done in an unconventional way.

The one saving grace of "Special ID" is the kitchen fight sequence. Donnie Yen reintroduces his Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and MMA type holds similar to what he used in "Flashpoint" in this film and they shine brightest here. Yen will often knock an opponent to the ground before swooping in and punching the victim directly in the temple. During the sequence, Yen kicks a man over a rail that falls down a flight of stairs. You can literally see the poor guy's shoe fly off as he falls.

Unfortunately "Special ID" just isn't a coherent martial arts film that anyone involved can boast about. Yen seems to be attempting to go for a more raw and less choreographed action film, but in reality most of the actors seem to just be scrambling to find their footing and fumbling around in the dirt. With tender moments coming off like they were ripped straight from the Lifetime network, nearly every action scene featuring enough wire work to look ridiculous, and so much unwanted comedy that the film is almost as ludicrous as "Badges of Fury," "Special ID" is a huge step back for the extremely talented Donnie Yen.

Special features include a four-minute making of featurette and the theatrical trailer. You get to hear Yen discuss his approach to the film including what he wishes to accomplish with the fighting styles utilized in the film. Seeing how the car chases were filmed is a serious plus. Jing Tian reveals that she didn't have a stunt double while director Clarence Fok chimes in by saying it's the actual actors in the cars. Too bad the green screen interior shots and outrageous climax ruined what would otherwise be a strong point for the film.

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