Hong Kong 97

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Our rating: two lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

From left: Robert Patrick,
Brion James, and Tim Thomerson.
Because we are trained professionals, we thought we could handle a screening of Hong Kong 97, starring Robert Patrick, Brion James, and Tim Thomerson. We could, but just barely. But you know what they say: Kids, don't try this at home.

Actually, we were originally optimistic about renting HK 97. Tim Thomerson is our favorite b-movie actor, and Brion James is a close second. We were really looking forward to seeing the chemistry between these two light up the screen, much like De Niro and Pesci in Casino, or like Hopper and Walken in True Romance. And of course the topic, Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule, is one of some interest, especially of late. It's really too bad that director Albert Pyun had to step in and ruin it for us all.

Hong Kong 97 takes place, appropriately enough, in Hong Kong right before the transfer of power from Britain to China. Reginald Cameron (played woodenly by Patrick, most memorably of Terminator 2), an assassin affiliated with a large corporation with interests in the colony, guns down a Chinese Red Army general on vacation in Hong Kong. Despite the fact that his involvement was supposedly secret, Cameron suddenly becomes a target for every two-bit mercenary in town. With the help of his company mentor (James), a clueless friend (Thomerson), and his two (that's right, two) Oriental girlfriends, Cameron must discover the reasons behind his sudden status as a celebrity target and escape from Hong Kong. At least he's not played by Kurt Russell.

Things go from bad to worse when we discover that Brion James must go the entire length of the film wearing a goatee and faking a British accent. Ever since his appearance in Blade Runner ("Time to die!"), we've grown used to Brion James as a fixture in the b-movie firmament, but his recent output is really impressive, ranging about four films a year but climbing as high as thirteen! Not that these were all good films, mind you, but he's doing better than Tim Thomerson. You probably saw James in a character role in this summer's big sci-fi film, The Fifth Element.

Thomerson realizes what film he's in.
Thomerson, of course, is the actor's actor. In this film he plays a corporate exec with no clue about Reginald Cameron's actual role in the Sherwood Corporation. His complete lack of savvy in such things is exposed when he is suddenly thrust into a gunfight: while Cameron and James' character, Simon Alexander, two-fist their weapons and blow the bad guys away, Thomerson hits the pavement and assumes the fetal position. By the end of the film, however, he learns to pump lead as well, although he does so grudgingly and clumsily. Also of note is the fact that Thomerson, as Jack McGraw, is the only one of the three characters who has a last name that doesn't sound like a first name.

We could talk about the B movie acting talent in this movie all day, but the real thing that really defines this mediocre movie is the directing 'talent' of Albert Pyun. Amongst the cinematic tragedies we can attribute to writer/director Pyun are the Kathy Ireland opus and MST3K favorite Alien from L.A.; Nemesis, which proved what we had heretofore only suspected, that Tim Thomerson is actually an android; two sequels to Nemesis; the execrable Captain America movie, which actually claimed to be a 'Un Film de Albert Pyun' in the credits; and naturally a good helping of Full Moon releases, including Dollman and Arcade.

One sure sign that we are in Pyun's hands is that the movie periodically stops dead so that characters can give long winded speeches that explain the background of the character speaking or another character. This happens about five times in HK '97. Also, the movie actually seems to slow down when the action scenes hit, mainly because of the excessive amount of slow motion used, and the fact that none of the action scenes are very interesting. Pyun seems to have taken in a few John Woo movies, (A Better Tomorrow Part 2 to be specific), but his action scenes are so straight forward (show good guys shooting, cut to bad guys falling down) that they actually manage to be boring.

Ming-Na Wen and her friend, Bob the dummy.
Pyun does nothing to inspire his cast of characters, either. Even the otherwise intriguing Ming-Na Wen, who plays Katie Chun, fails to shine under his direction. And her grandfather, Chun, looks like he's played by a marionette. Thomerson and James managed to be fun despite the poorly lit sets and other hindrances, which is why we gave HK '97 a second lava lamp. But the only thing the director could have done to make this film less watchable would have been to put less of the action in various strip clubs -- because in Pyun's Hong Kong, every alley, storefront, and safehouse backs up against a strip club.

Hong Kong 97 could have been a really interesting political thriller about the conflicting forces in Hong Kong and their reactions to the changes about to happen. Instead, it opts for the standard "hero on the run" formula with a surprise ending: Surprise! The ending makes no sense!

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 6/9/97

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