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Special ID

Donnie Yen in SPECIAL ID

Donnie Yen introduces someone to his knee in Special ID.

Chinese: 特殊身份  
Year: 2013  
Director: Clarence Fok Yiu-Leung
Producer: Peter Pau, Donnie Yen Ji-Dan
Writer: Szeto Kam-Yuen
Action: Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Bruce Law Lai-Yin
Cast: Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Andy On Chi-Kit, Jing Tian, Zhang Hanyu, Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Bau Hei-Jing, Collin Chou (Ngai Sing), Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Terence Yin, Evergreen Mak Cheung-Ching, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Ng Chi-Hung
The Skinny: Action-packed and also hilariously goofy. Special ID is like an uncut brick of Donnie Yen goodness: The actor plays both the awesome badass from Flash Point and the grinning idiot from Mismatched Couples – a potential problem for more recent converts to the Church of Donnie Yen. Fun if you don't take it seriously, but don't go in expecting another SPL.
by Kozo:

Has it really been six years since Donnie Yen starred in a modern cop actioner like Flash Point? That question was rhetorical, since you likely know that Yen spent his post-Flash Point years earning bank with costume films like Painted Skin while upping his prestige cred with the Ip Man films and branching out with wacky fluff like the All’s Well, Ends Well movies. The years and mileage haven’t stymied Yen’s action abilities, but in that time, it seems that he’s also developed – strangely enough – a sense of humor. Special ID has the action and exaggerated badass cool that one expects from DONNNNIEEE but it also possesses hilarious if not always intentional goofiness thanks to a knowingly generic script, entertaining overacting and super-happy sentiments that border on nauseating. Maybe you’re here for another SPL, but Donnie Yen isn’t down with that. He delivers the obligatory and genuinely entertaining action, but the rest seems to come straight from actor-producer Yen’s heart. For better or worse.

Yen stars as Chen Zilong, a Hong Kong police officer so deep undercover in the triads that he’s actually become a triad boss. Zilong (sometimes called Arlong in the subtitles) wishes to end his undercover days, but first receives a mission to assist the mainland cops. Zilong is given a “special identity” and sent packing to the north, where he meets policewoman Fang Jing (Jing Tian), a decorated sharpshooter who kicks major ass despite looking like she weighs eighty pounds. Their quarry is Sunny (Andy On), who betrayed boss Brother Kun (Evergreen Mak) and is generally behaving like a cocky bastard. Coincidentally, Zilong’s triad boss Brother Xiong (Collin Chou) has a soft spot for Brother Kun and also wants Zilong to look into Sunny. Once upon a time, Zilong was Sunny’s mentor, but that was before Sunny’s three-year sojourn to the US. Now back in Asia, Sunny speaks flawless English and is a total badass, to boot. But is he now tougher than Chen Zilong?

Special ID has a story that could have been written by that guy who sat two rows in front of you at the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie marathon. This is the story of a rough undercover cop who’s also an incredibly nice guy. He’ll flirt dangerously with Fang Jing by rear-ending her car, but will comfort her wholeheartedly after she’s offed her first criminal, using empowering slogans like, “Life is meant to be experienced!” He’s a scruffy badass who disobeys his superior officer (an excellent Ronald Cheng), but he does it because he’s always right – or at least, he’s always righteous. Zilong is also so childlike that he’ll spar with his colleagues petulantly, though acting like overgrown children is a problem most of the characters have. Hilariously, one mainland cop writes off Fang Jing and Zilong’s immature spats as “cultural differences.” This is basically the filmmakers’ idea of comedy: snarky cops who kick ass but bicker like adolescents. Special ID wasn’t made in the 90s, but it probably should have been.

Donnie Yen and co. don’t take themselves that seriously in Special ID. You can tell this is supposed to be a fun and positive film, from the warm exchanges between Zilong and his mother (Bau Hei-Jing) to Zilong’s goofy grins to Fang Jing’s omnipresent Hello Kitty coffee mug. The action, banter and borderline silly character moments take priority over a consistent script. People sometimes talk in an oblique manner, with metaphors and odd exchanges that quicken the film but make no sense in retrospect. English subtitles are also a problem; character names are not consistent, and wonky, mistranslated dialogue abounds. Plot turns can be glaringly bad, like one scene where Zilong appears to remember that his mom is in danger a whole week after he should have. These elements reduce tension and drama, but up the unintentional comedy. One amusing line of dialogue that’s hard to identify as intentional or not: an exchange between Fang Jing and Zilong which could be interpreted as a China-fluffing reference to the Handover.

Some audiences – particularly Donnie Yen’s international fanbase – may wish to fast-forward to the action. Besides Bruce Law’s excellent car chase sequences, Yen choreographs a number of strong, lengthy set pieces, including a mahjongg parlor-set throwdown versus Ken Lo, a one-versus-dozens brawl set in a hot pot restaurant, and the final MMA-flavored showdown with Andy On. There’s plenty of impact, power and full-body action on display, and even though the mixed martial arts can get repetitive (fluid choreography trumps manly grappling in my estimation) you’ll get what you likely paid for. Donnie Yen gratefully shares the spotlight; in one scene, he allows himself to be saved by Jing Tian, plus his final fight versus Andy On isn’t the one-sided clobbering that his Flash Point duel with Collin Chou was. Unfortunately, Chou doesn’t fight in Special ID, though he does punch Jing Tian in a men’s bathroom, plus give Bau Hei-Jing a haircut while glowering menacingly. Hey, those are some sharp scissors.

Collin Chou threatening an old woman with hair styling is not orthodox action filmmaking, but Chou seems to be having fun. Likewise, Zhang Hanyu’s brief appearance as a silent hitman seems to exist only so Zhang can tell his kids, “Hey, I was in a Donnie Yen movie!” Jing Tian is fetching and ferocious as the film’s eighty-pound warrior, and Andy On entertains by being a vicious bad guy who seems genuinely hurt that people betray him. Director Clarence Fok and company look to be channeling the 90s here – not with the production or art direction, but using pace, acting, the lounge music saxophone score and an odd mix of tones. If you’re looking for the edgy, super badass Donnie Yen – sorry, you won’t get that here. But if you like the happier, goofier Donnie Yen – basically the guy who was in Mismatched Couples plus a few years and scars – and want to see him as an Infernal Affairs-like undercover cop who jumps for joy about his mother’s love, then Special ID is for you. It may not be “good”, but it’s good times. (Kozo, 10/2013)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson Enterprises Co., Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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