Review: 'The Viral Factor'
Hong Kong Lite
I'd like nothing more than to wholeheartedly recommend the new Hong Kong film "The Viral Factor" (opening January 20 at AMC Mission Valley Theaters). The screening tonight at 7:20 is sponsored by the San Diego Asian Film Festival.
Director Dante Lam ("Beast Stalker," "Stool Pigeon") delivers a film filled with all the familiar elements of the classic Hong Kong actioner -- brothers torn apart, child in jeopardy, close quarter hand-to-hand combat, massive sentimentality butted up against gritty violence -- but without any of the redeeming flamboyance of style. The film stars Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse as estranged brothers caught up in family turmoil as well as a plot to unleash a small pox virus as a biological weapon.
Kudos to SDAFF and China Lion for trying to open a Hong Kong film here in the U.S. at the same time as it is opening overseas. It's also Chinese New Year, a time when the Hong Kong industry usually release a big pop entertainment film sure the please the whole family. But "The Viral Factor" is a ponderous tale that sets up the biological threat early on and then seems to forgot about it for a different kind of biological tale as CHou's mother sends her son out to find his long lost sibling.
Lam has an occasional flair for close quarter action and slow motion bullets. The violence is rendered with some expertise but there's never the exhilarating rush you used to get from a John Woo actioner or the disturbing grit of a Ringo Lam film. Granted a mediocre Hong Kong action film still comes in head and shoulders above the average American actioner so the film is not without a certain appeal.
I'm not sure what a partnership between SDAFF and CHina Lion might yield. I'd like to see them give it a try and make an effort to find stronger titles to bring over... maybe China Lion could pick up some Johnnie To titles... hint, hint... and release them over here... hint, hint.
"The Viral Factor" (in Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles) made me long for some genuine Hong Kong action. If you go to the film at least go tonight and show your support for SDAFF.
Companion viewing: "Full Contact," "Hard-Boiled," "Time and Tide"