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Star Runner
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Top left: Vanness Wu and Andy On go at it.
Lower left: Wong Yau-Nam, Vanness Wu and Max Mok hang out.
Right: Kim Hyun-Joo and Vanness Wu cuddle.
Year: 2003
Director: Daniel Lee Yan-Kong
Producer: Catherine Hun
Writer: Abe Kwong Man-Wai, Taurus Chow, Daniel Lee Yan-Kong
Action: Chin Kar-Lok
Cast: Vanness Wu (Ng Kin-Ho), Kim Hyun-Joo, Max Mok Siu Chung, Andy On Chi-Kit, Wong Yau-Nam, Shaun Tam Chun-Yin, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Chin Kar-Lok, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Jude Poyer, , Roy Chow Wing-Hung, Joe Ma Wai-Ho, Ricardo Mamood, Philip Ng Won-Lung
The Skinny: A tried-and-true formula buoyed by slick direction and some good supporting turns. After that, it's all downhill. For a one-hundred minute movie, Star Runner seems to waste a lot of time. Vanness Wu needs acting lessons.
by Kozo:

     It's the F4 invasion! All told, three of Taiwan pop juggernaut/idol group F4 have made their bigscreen Hong Kong debuts. Ken Zhu had Sky of Love with Gigi Leung, and Jerry Yen had Magic Kitchen with Sammi Cheng. Now uber-cute Vanness Wu gets paired with Korean starlet Kim Hyun-Joo in Star Runner, a glossy boxing melodrama that delivers on the gloss, but not on the drama. Vanness Wu certainly looks like he could hold court with a crowd of screaming girls, but as an actor he has much to learn. The movie isn't very good, either.
     Wu stars as Bond, a to-die-for college kid who sleeps in his Korean language course and practices Thai kickboxing as a member of the Kong Ching team. Headed by Shaw Brothers luminary Gordon Liu, the Kong Ching team also includes Chin Kar-Lok (who also directed the action), Shine kid Wong Yau-Nam, and Shaun Tam, who's looking more like daddy Ti Lung every day. Two members of the team are to participate in Star Runner, a Panasian martial arts competition that's anything goes—as long as you don't hit the sensitive areas of your opponent. The prize: a ring date with Tank (Andy On), the celebrated champion bohunk of Star Runner. If you can last long enough to take on Tank, it's supposed to be a reward in itself, but hey, this is a movie. Who doubts that me-so-cute Bond won't have a shot at the ultimate title?
     First there's romance. Bond strikes up a mutual flirtation with visiting teacher Kim (Kim Hyun-Joo), who's teaching in Hong Kong to ease her broken heart. Her sponsor (Alfred Cheung) and indeed every red-blooded male in Hong Kong seems to have the hots for her, and why not? As females go, Kim is high on the aesthetically pleasing list, and though she didn't intend it, she and Bond seem to be heading for sweaty Hong Kong dates that would make pre-teen girls swoon. Told episodically with odd title cards, the romance is slow but picks up steam towards the hour mark. Yes, there could be kissing soon.
     But then there's conflict. Kim is Bond's teacher, so getting physical with him is probably taboo. Also, her boyfriend from Korea makes a reappearance right when Bond's fighting career hits the danger zone. Upset that he didn't make the Star Runner cut, Bond challenges Kong Ching top kid Chris Young (Shaun Tam) to a one-on-one in the ring—and he gets pasted. He also gets kicked out of Kong Ching, but there's a way out: Bullshit Bill (Max Mok, returning from direct-to-video purgatory), a washed-up fighter who teaches Bond to supplement his Thai kickboxing with Chinese kung-fu, thereby creating a fusion fighting style that should make even Tank think twice. Then Bond learns the art of fighting in less than ten minutes, whereupon Star Runner commences and people start getting unceremoniously eliminated. Meanwhile, Kim still has romantic issues, and she spends untold minutes staring blankly at the horizon as she must choose between two men: a successful, well-to-do Korean guy, or a smoldering, hot-tempered Hong Kong kid with the greatest hair EVER. Oh, the drama.
     Star Runner was directed by Daniel Lee, a man who has made some decent, even excellent cinema in the past (A Fighter's Blues, Moonlight Express, Till death do us part). Like Star Runner, those films were extraordinarly well-made for Hong Kong films, and possessed requisite style, gloss and superficial artifice. However, unlike Star Runner, those films had proven actors (Andy Lau, Anita Yuen, Leslie Cheung, and the enchanting Takako Tokiwa) and even some decent writing. Star Runner fails on both those counts, delivering a lead actor with the personality of a brick, and a script which packs too much into too little time, thus making itself seem undeveloped and even silly. Whatever emotional payoffs that the film promises—and there are a lot of them—are not earned in any way. There's a hidden history between Bullshit Bill and Kong Ching—okay, what is it? Bond and Chris Young—what's their supposed rivalry about? Why do Tank and Bond make homoerotic goo-goo eyes at each other in the ring? What's Tank's deal anyway? Is he an angry fighter or a talented boy who just wants approval from his hardass brother (Ken Lo)? And what's the connection between Bond's lovelife and Bond's grandad (David Chiang), who apparently also chased a Korean girl some many years back? Is all this meaningful, or is it just a plethora of random screenwriting details designed to resemble some form of drama?
     Most likely, the answer to that final question would be B) Star Runner is just a plethora of random screenwriting details designed to resemble some form of drama. Nothing that occurs in the film hasn't been done before in a much better way. Star Runner's Chinese title is "Young Ah Fu", which is a reference to another, better film, Daniel Lee's A Fighter's Blues, which had the Chinese name "Ah Fu." The correlation between those two films? Probably nothing besides the fact that both had hot-tempered protagonists engaged in Thai kickboxing. However, A Fighter's Blues had Andy Lau, while Star Runner gets Vanness Wu. Bond is supposed to be an intense Andy Lau-type who's passionate and proud, but Vanness Wu appears more dead inside than anything else. If we're supposed to see drama in Wu's cold, distant eyes, then someone in the casting office seriously misjudged their audience. Yep, girls will probably go gaga over Wu's shaggy locks and could-be-a-girl-himself popstar looks, but the kid shouldn't carry a movie like Star Runner just yet. He needs seasoning, and maybe about thirty extra pounds.
     Not that it's all bad in Star Runner. There are some good points. The film looks good, though its true depth could be measured with a slide rule. There's fighting, and much of it is staged energetically and with a good mix of styles. Cool cameos by David Chiang, Ti Lung and Gordon Liu may make some people break out their Shaw Brothers collection, and Max Mok delivers an interesting, if not hammy performance as the broken-down Bullshit Bill. And yes, Kim Hyun-Joo is pretty, though nowhere in the league of Takako Tokiwa, or probably even Vanness Wu, who's probably the prettiest person in the entire film. Overall, Star Runner looks and feels just like the made-to-order commercial cinema which pleases most renters at Blockbuster Video. If production values are the big ticket, then Star Runner is a grand slam—if you ignore the annoying fact that both of the romantic leads have been dubbed. It's likely that some viewers could rent, watch, and return Star Runner with little or no idea that the movie they just saw was really not that good at all. Those people probably also enjoy the fine cinema of Michael Bay, but that's another story. (Kozo 2004)

Awards: 23rd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Winner - Best New Artist (Andy On Chi-Kit)
Nomination - Best New Artist (Vanness Wu)
• Nomination - Best Action Design (Chin Kar-Lok)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Making Of, Trailers

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen