Julian Cheung in "Option Zero" (1997)

25 Years Later: Option Zero G4特工 (1997)

There was a time when Hong Kong cinema used to produce a series of action movies that mixes a cop genre with soap opera elements during the ’90s era.

Among them includes the Option trilogy, which consists of The Final Option <飛虎雄心> (1994) and First Option <飛虎> (1996), both of which are directed by Gordon Chan and featured Michael Wong in the lead role. Then, there’s the third and final Option instalment, Option Zero <G4特工>, where Gordon Chan took the co-producer credit instead in favour of Dante Lam making his directorial debut.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, Option Zero <G4特工> isn’t as cinematically accomplished as Lam’s later works in the late 2000s onwards such as Beast Stalker <証人> (2008), The Stool Pigeon <線人> (2010) and That Demon Within <魔警> (2014). The movie is rough around the edges with the soap opera parts feeling more like an obligatory filler than a necessity to fulfil its feature-length quota.

Julian Cheung and Carman Lee in "Option Zero" (1997)
Julian Cheung and Carman Lee in “Option Zero” (1997)

Written by genre veteran Chan Hing-Kai, the story follows the professional and personal lives of the elite team of SB (Special Branch) from the Hong Kong Police Force. This includes Ben (Julian Cheung) and some of the other team members — Sing (Anthony Wong), Monica (Monica Chan) and Chi (Cheung Hung-On).

Over the course of its somewhat protracted 109-minute running time, Option Zero <G4特工> alternates between the SB team’s dangerous mission against a notorious South Korean criminal (Ching Fung’s Kim Chong Yat) and their respective private lives. For instance, we learn about Ben having a tough time balancing his life between his job and his live-in girlfriend, Kelly (Carman Lee). The G4 in the Cantonese title refers to the special Hong Kong Police Force unit, which curiously isn’t the main point of the movie. Let’s just say it was more of an afterthought and here, we get to see Michael Wong making his cameo appearance as a G4 trainer.

I recently rewatched the movie and still find the soap opera parts remain the weakest point here. It doesn’t help either when Julian Cheung delivers an overall wooden lead performance while Carman Lee is rather annoying in her supporting role.

Anthony Wong in "Option Zero" (1997)
Anthony Wong in “Option Zero” (1997)

Anthony Wong, whose puffy-looking appearance due to a thyroid disorder at the time, fares better as Sing. He manages to strike a balance between exuding a laid-back personality and being a dedicated SB team member. Monica Chan is equally decent as a tough but vulnerable SB team member, who has been harbouring a crush on Ben. The movie could have developed the love triangle between Ben, Kelly and Monica but chose to simply fill it in in a rather superficial manner.

If you can get over the tedious storyline, Option Zero <G4特工> remains a technical showcase for Dante Lam in the action department with the help of Chin Ka-Lok. This is where he excels the most, where he made the best out of its limited budget to stage some thrilling shootout sequences. The visceral shotgun battle moment between Sing and Kim is one of them worth mentioning here.

Compared to The Final Option <飛虎雄心> and First Option <飛虎>, which made HK$11.2 million and HK$17.3 million respectively, Option Zero <G4特工> could only muster a paltry HK$6.3 million when it was initially released on November 27, 1997. The movie ranked at No. 32 at the 1997 Hong Kong box office.

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