Judge Josh Rode's cat Paddy is prowling under a tree, where she has a squirrel under siege.
This ain't your ordinary crime wave.
"When I came up with the idea for this film, it was just an ordinary crime film," says director Benny Chan in the "making of" featurette for City Under Siege. "But I have been making crime films for the past ten years. So after all these years, I think I can add sci-fi elements into an action movie. We want to be different."
It's certainly hard to think of any other films about mutants fighting other mutants. Right?
Facts of the Case
Circus clown Sunny (Aaron Kwok, Empire of Silver) follows some other circus members into a cave, where they're all overwhelmed by toxic gas that gives them super powers. While the others use their newfound powers to rob banks, Sunny's only interest is attracting the attention of news reporter Angel (Qi Shu, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen). When Sunny stops a robber using unconventional means, Angel is impressed and becomes his agent. The other mutants, convinced Sunny's blood will take away the side effects that mar their appearances, won't leave him a moment's peace. Aided by mutant hunters Sun Hao (Jacky Wu, aka Wu Jing, Happy Magic) and Jingchu Zhang (Rush Hour 3), Sunny is forced to fight for his life.
Like a seed buried under winter's frozen soil, City Under Siege had the potential to grow into something special. Sadly, a variety of factors hindered its development and the end result more closely resembles a weed. The problems start with the action, which features an over-abundance of slow-motion shots to capture such dynamically imperative moments as people roaring and smoke billowing. What's more, the film is loaded sloppy effects—such as the steps leading to the cave in the prologue that are supposedly being bombed by the British, but were quite clearly pre-set with charges. The mutant makeup, with its bulging veins and overgrown musculature, looks fake from the very first moment. Zhang Dachu (Collin Chou, The Forbidden Kingdom), leader of the evil mutants, wears an outfit similar to Michael Chiklis' Thing outfit in Fantastic Four. You know, the one that looks like a padded Latex Halloween costume. There is a brief moment, when the bad mutants are just starting their crime spree, where they look really natural. After that, all of their features begin to resemble Jim Carey donning The Mask (especially the one who turns green).
The acting is not as bad as the effects or the makeup, but almost everyone is a caricature. There are very brief moments when someone accidentally does some acting—Angel's reaction, after hearing her plan for Sunny has been approved, stands out—but the characters don't get to do a lot of growing. The mutants come across as people trying to act like monsters, with nothing at all believable about their 1970's The Incredible Hulk-like transformations. There is supposed to be a budding romance between Sunny and Angel, but the actors have no chemistry. Which is funny because Chaou and Shu generate more spark in their scenes together, making the evil Dachu's obsession with Angel feel more real than Sunny's tears.
All in all, City Under Siege is a live-action cartoon that would probably work better had it been animated. A further devolution to a graphic novel would have been even better, since the action, effects, and acting—the three least effective parts of the film—would then have been left to the readers' imaginations.
The 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen presentation is rather grainy, especially during dark scenes. Colors are somewhat faded and everything has a vague yellow tint, which is only emphasized when there is a clear source of light, such as sunlight coming through a window. Flashlights give off a solid yellow beam, like the ones you might see in an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! The 5.1 TrueHD audio is adequate, with moderately effective stereo effects, good ambient use of the surrounds (especially in the cave sequence), and small but present bass response from the subwoofer. While English subtitles are a tad large but easy to read, the English dubbing features weird voices, poor flap-matching, and some minor incongruities with the subtitles.
The only bonus features are a DVD copy, the film's trailer, and the aforementioned "making of" featurette, which is mildly engaging, especially when the actors discuss which super powers they would want.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I must admit, I was quite amused by the slew of commercials in which Angel made Sunny take part. "The merciless razor that never misses its target," says Sunny, wearing a cowboy hat and cheesy false mustache. "It can root out all the opponents."
Also, as in Shaolin, the quietly confident Jacky Wu is the highlight of the film. Zhang and he have a nice chemistry that someone should make use of in a better film.
Finally, there's no question that City Under Siege gets better as it goes, simply because the first sequence, depicting secret World War II-era Japanese experiments, is so poorly done that the rest of the film feels positively brilliant in comparison.
Aided and abetted by really bad makeup, over-the-top acting, gratuitous slow motion shots, and a bizarre plot, City Under Siege seems designed for the sole purpose of jarring its viewers out of the flow of the story as much as possible. There are hints of a much better film, but it never materializes.
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