Review: BADGES OF FURY Is Barely A Jet Li Movie At All

James Marsh, Asian Editor

Martial arts fans relishing the chance of seeing Jet Li square off against an assortment of villainous screen legends under Corey Yuen's action direction may well be left disappointed, as Badges of Fury really wants to be a goofy comedy vehicle for Wen Zhang and Michelle Chen.

On paper, Badges of Fury seems to have all the ingredients of an old school Hong Kong action classic, with Jet Li playing the grizzled partner to Wen Zhang's rookie as they tear around Hong Kong on the trail of a prolific serial killer. The cast boasts a number of proven martial arts stars, including Wu Jing, Collin Chou and Bruce Leung, sharing the screen with a host of cameo appearances from hot young talent like Huang Xiaoming, Stephen Fung and Tong Dawei, while first time director Wong Tsz Ming is ably supported by revered action director Corey Yuen.

Sadly, instead of being a high octane cop thriller, Badges of Fury is first and foremost a comedy - an incredibly broad one at that - following Wen Zhang's young detective Wang Bu Er as he gurns and pratfalls his way through a multiple murder case. After the victims are all identified as former lovers of aspiring actress Liu Jin Shiu (Liu Shishi), suspicion soon falls on her voluptuous, predatory sister, Dai Yi Yi (Liu Yan). There is talk of a curse, jealous lovers and poison darts, but much of that is obscured by Wang incessantly flirting with both sisters as well as his new commanding officer, Angela (Michelle Chen).

Each murder victim avails a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo opportunity for actors like Michael Tse and Tong Dawei, while random suspects, supervisors and witnesses are portrayed by everyone from Stephy Tang to Huang Xiaoming, although nobody is onscreen for more than a couple of minutes. Stephen Fung fares slightly better as a jilted former admirer of the perennially engaged Liu, which brings us to the seasoned kung-fu veterans whose participation has been widely publicised in the film's marketing.

Despite getting top billing alongside Wen Zhang, Jet Li can't be onscreen for more than 30 minutes in total, and his character has almost no bearing on the outcome of the story. At various points it is called upon for the cops to engage in hand-to-hand combat with an assortment of nefarious characters, prompting all investigations to cease while Li appears and fights Collin Chou or Wu Jing or Bruce Leung. 

Whether staged in a stairwell, a cramped apartment or a bamboo theatre, however, the fights themselves are a bit of a letdown considering who is involved both in front of and behind the camera. They represent far and away the best moments in the film, but director Wong has set that bar disappointingly low, and Yuen & Co aren't exactly challenged to do better.

Elsewhere there is plenty of stunt work and action on display, but there is such an obvious over-reliance on CGI, compositing, wirework and speed-ramping that almost none of it impresses, and for many will prove more of an irritation than a pleasure. Many of these moments are also played for laughs, complete with aural punctuation more at home in a Looney Tunes cartoon than an action film - suffice to say there is precious little fury on display in Badges of Fury.

There is one further gripe, however, that eclipses everything else, and that is in the film's casting. While made with money from mainland China, Badges of Fury takes place entirely within the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, where Cantonese is the preferred spoken language - most certainly within the police force. However, almost all the lead actors in the film - Jet Li, Wen Zhang, Michelle Chen, and Liu Shishi - are native Mandarin speakers, all of whom hail from either the mainland or Taiwan.

True enough, the distinction between Hong Kong Cinema and Chinese Cinema has become increasingly difficult to see in recent years, but to witness it being so flagrantly discarded the way it is in Badges of Fury should spread genuine concern. To see what should be a wholly Hong Kong story assimilated without acknowledgement into a mainland Chinese sensibility suggests that the days of mainstream Hong Kong movie-making - as something genuinely different to what is being produced en masse north of the border - are well and truly numbered.

Around the Internet:
  • Sunil

    it ain't that bad..

  • DooK_Fresh

    Jet is starting to become like Jackie. Doing crap movies for big pay checks *sign*

  • DooK_Fresh

    I already saw this coming the moment the trailers were out.

  • Qinlong

    Wow that's disappointing. Not sure Jet Li cares much about cinema anymore, but I'd really love him to actually headline a film once in a while. It's already the 3rd film with Jet Li-centric marketing, that actually hasn't got that much Jet Li in it, after Sorcerer and the White Snake and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate. I know there's no competition between them, but wow Jet Li is really lagging behind Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen.
    Too bad, I could really see him alternating action films and low key drama a la Ocean Heaven, instead of just settling for being Wen Zhang chaperone. And I know he's keeping busy with charity work and Tai Chi promotion, but I'll happily wait 2 years for a Jet Li lead, rather than 1 year for a Jet Li supporting role.

  • Art Vandelay

    I said it before, it's Jet Li's City Hunter.
    And having seen it, it was exactly what I expected. To me, it was an old-school comedy, harking back to 80's and 90's HK comedies and Zhang Wen was a capable comedy lead, with Michelle Chen being a good foil to his antics. Jet Li seemed to be quite relieved from handling lead duties, since he handles his action scenes well enough (he is 50 after all) and has a few zingers of his own (The film piracy joke was amusing). All the cameos were kinda fun to spot, and Huang Xiaoming's cameo was the most fun to me. Seeing Ma Yi Li telling off Zhang Wen was amusing too, since they are husband and wife in real life.

    Yeah, not all jokes work, and those expecting a martial arts action film will be disappointed. But at least it knows its a comedy and hey, it's still better than Switch.
    Switch was like a really bad Bollywood action film, without the music.

  • davebaxter

    Yeah, we can only hope this is as good as City Hunter. Even in CH, the action sequences were incredible. The Gary Daniels scenes were good, and the SF2 sequences mind-blowing for its time, especially to those of us in the West who don't see that kind of random co-op happen so much. And the final fight with JC and Richard Norton is totally a ranking final JC fight. But something tells me the action in Badges won't match those heights, and what we're really getting is City Hunter, but with a 50-year-old action star and less creativity in the comedy. Which = pretty mediocre, since the creative comedy and kick-ass action were City Hunter's draws.

  • PeterKapow

    See Jackie Chan's City Hunter is probably one of my fave Jackie Chan films, for the sheer gonzo entertainment factor - so this is all I needed to hear.

  • caseymoviemania

    I'm not impressed at one bit that "Badges of Fury" is more on a broad comedy rather than an all-out action fest sprinkled with comedy undertones, especially after seeing all the trailers that have shown online. Even all those glimpses of action sequences involving Jet Li are obviously enhanced with over-the-top wireworks, which are frankly, disappointing to look at.

  • PeterKapow

    I was definitely expecting this to be a silly comedy. How would it rank next to something like High Risk?

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