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So Close

The art house is an odd place that follows odd rules. While no one would have ever thought to look for last year's The Transporter in their local hipster café/screening room, Corey Yuen's other 2002 action extravaganza So Close will be bumping out some tea-sipping for some ass kicking simply because it carries the Mark of Cain that is subtitles. The same picture with a bad English redub would play to a handful of drunk 15 year olds at a Cineplex that carded them for Cabin Fever.

So Close will be called the Hong Kong Charlie's Angels by more than a few, and I might as well light a torch and join the mob. It's a high-action piece about two sisters who work as big-dollar hired guns, the girl cop on their trail, and dirty corporate shenanigans. Mix in a little unrequited love, add a stick of revenge, a pinch of gender games and simmer for 110 mins.

After a quick set-up, we meet Lynn (Qi Shu), an assassin who is as cool in a negotiation as she is in a blizzard of gunfire and shattered glass. Under the watchful eye of her computer expert sister, Sue (Vicki Zhao), Lynn dispatches her target and exits the building, leaving a bullet in the leg of any lackey that gets in her way. Of course, this job isn't over, both because her employers want to hearse her, and the new lady detective, Kong Yat Hong (Karen Mok), has the scent.

Yuen is definitely a master of action, but he's not exactly a great storyteller. When the bullets are flying and the tires are screeching things are great, but in between, things down shift into something between bad soap opera and Sweet Valley: CSI. Fortunately bullets fly a lot in this picture and some gorgeous transitions more than make up for a really, really bad musical score.

With The Transporter, Yuen was smart enough to keep everything in the present. We don't know anything about The Transporter's past. Anything we need to know about the character is rolled within the action of the plot. In So Close we are treated to more than a few clunky flashbacks that bring things to a halt.

The visual flair of the picture makes up for the slow parts. When Lynn puts a heel to the ceiling we get an x-ray cutaway shot showing the spear-like anchor that allows her to defy gravity in a firefight. When Kong gets in an elevator with a couple of unseemly types, we get the best cinematic representation of photographic memory we've ever seen.

The picture also sets up a great world in which the criminals and the cops are honorable but the corporations are dirty. The cop and the bandit are perfect matches for each other. An amazing martial arts sequence proves that, but when the kid sister has to take over, things kick into high gear. Yuen started in the biz as a performer and fight choreographer and boy does it show. Even the sisterly squabbles have nice moves, most notably in a softest of the soft core tease scene (echoing the classic kitchen climax of Yuen's Bodyguard from Bejing) where the two girls fight over a towel during bath time.

The entire picture has an interesting sexual subtext, especially considering its generally chaste approach to the subject. The romance between Lynn and her boyfriend is the stuff of 50's etiquette pictures, but in the subtext, Kong is the man in both her relationship with her male partner and later with Sue. Had Yuen dropped the flashbacks, he could have strengthened this theme and - horrors! - increased the emotional depth.

Emotionally, the picture does strike more than a few chords, with a burial scene that breaks your heart while making some interesting statements on representations and the medium in general. Likewise, the final assault does some interesting things with the moral problems with CGI actors and technology's short comings when human senses are needed. For a picture where every window shatters in a pretty sheet of pixels, it makes some clever arguments against digital processes when reality or the illusion of such is the goal.

As for the translation, there are a couple of poorly-masked subtitles in the beginning of the film, but for non-outlined white titles things aren't too bad. The picture's title comes from the fact that during a job, Sue jams all of the communications devices with a faithful cover of "Close To You." That's about the level of the translations in the picture. Similar concepts are conveyed, but a lot of it feels more than a little off.

The picture is flawed but a whole lot of fun. If you're already a fan of Yuen, you've probably already bought your tickets, but if you just dug The Transporter give this one a shot. As far as I'm concerned, there is no cooler way to spend a Saturday afternoon than in a half-empty art house box watching a subtitled action picture. If enough of you agree and enough of you go, maybe we can get more of these stateside and I can make Hong Kong Saturday Afternoons a standing date instead of an occasional joy.



Jordan Rosa

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