Judge David Johnson's ID is quite special.
The cops can't control him. The mob wants him dead. And time is running out.
Donnie Yen is an action movie demigod. It was with great anticipation that I took his latest for a spin. It is with great sadness I must now confess my disappointment.
Facts of the Case
Donnie Yen stars as Detective Chen Zilong, a special operative who is deep undercover with a powerful crime gang. When he's crunching skulls as a mob enforcer he's known as the "Dragon," a feared heavyweight who no one dares stand up to. That changes when a new power emerges in the underworld, a hotshot badass who handles himself well in a fight and is not shy about putting his adversaries in the ground. The two men are set for an inevitable clash, as Zilong's identity descends into a dangerous gray area.
Big, big whiff here. To me, Donnie Yen action movies are appointment viewing. Well, non-period Donnie Yen movies that is. I was never really drawn much toward Ip Man and its ilk, but Flashpoint and Kill Zone…yes, please!
When Yen is unleashed, he serves up some of the very best hand-to-hand shenanigans money can buy, most of which isn't aided by CGI or wires. So when I first sniffed the trailer for Special ID I was giddy. This looked exactly like the sort of Yen beatdown extravaganza that floats my boat.
I must have fallen victim to one of those sizzle reel trailers, with all the best stuff cut into two minutes to generate false hope. Because, friends, there's no getting around it: Special ID is mediocre…and that might be too kind.
Start with the plot, a pedestrian tale rife with all the usual clichés found in the Cop Goes Deep Undercover, Loses His Way genre. Zilong doesn't know who to trust. Almost gets killed. Starts bickering with the cops. Runs afoul of the crime boss. Sees his loved ones sucked into danger. Blows his cover to unleash an epic smackdown. You've seen this all before and, sadly, Special ID offers nothing new in this well-trod playbook.
Tonally, Special ID is all over the place. I think the movie is playing it straight, but then some out-of-place slapstick or a corny musical cue will drop and waylay the gravitas.
Which—of course—I could happily overlook, if the fighting was up to snuff. I have no memory of what in the world Flashpoint was about, but when you end your movie with one the greatest final fight scenes in history, the first 70 minutes can be Donnie Yen whistling in a hot dog suit for all I care.
Special ID attempts to replicate that, devoting a hefty amount of runtime to the ultimate face-off between Zilong and his nemesis on an unfinished bridge. But like the rest of the fights in the film—as grounded and wire-fu-free as they may be—the choreography was either unimaginative (get ready for some interminable MMA grappling) and weird (one fight has Yen willingly do battle sliding around on his butt).
The Blu-ray is a looker, though, pumping out a crystal-clear 2.40:1/1080p HD transfer and a clean DTS-HD 5.1 (Cantonese) mix, which, unfortunately, gives life to a hapless score. A making-of featurette is the lone extra.
It's rare when we get gritty contemporary Hong Kong action movies. So when one of them flatlines like Special ID, it's cause for a serious lamentation to Crom.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
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