After spending more than a decade writing action screenplays for high-profile movies including the Ip Man <葉問> quadrilogy (2008-2019), Special ID <特殊身份> (2013) and Master Z: Ip Man Legacy <葉問外傳：張天志> (2018), Chan Tan-Li finally got his chance to direct his own action movie.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time he got his directing gig, given his prior experience in 2018’s Tomorrow is Another Day <黃金花>. The action movie in question is Fierce Cop <烈探>, a straight-to-streaming Youku movie initially released back in July but it went under my radar until a buddy of mine told me about it.
Chan Tan-Li, working from a screenplay written by Nicholl Tang Nik-Kei is simple enough: Zhang Tu (Richie Ren) is a cop who discovers his son, Xiaoje (Xia Tian) has been abducted by a group of human traffickers. With the help of Chin Maung Su (Sebrina Chen), a young woman who works in a nightclub, they embark on a cross-country journey to locate Zhang’s missing son at all costs.
The story of a desperate parent looking for his/her missing children is no doubt an oft-told premise that we have seen countless times before. In fact, we recently have a movie like this called Come Back Home <搜救> starring Donnie Yen and prior like-minded efforts, namely Paradox <殺破狼．貪狼> in 2017.
Fierce Cop <烈探> is simply a formulaic movie through and through and what elevates this otherwise forgettable straight-to-streaming movie is Richie Ren’s committed performance as Zhang Tu. He even convinced me as a martial artist, thanks to Kenji Tanigaki‘s above-average action direction. The movie spends a lot of time showcasing a lot of hand-to-hand combats, which echoed the MMA fighting style populated by Donnie Yen in the likes of Flash Point <導火線> (2007). While Richie Ren is definitely no match for Yen’s martial arts prowess, his physically-demanding performance remains impressive enough for a non-martial artist like him and more so for a guy who was already 56 years old.
It also helps that Fierce Cop <烈探> only runs less than 90 minutes long and kudos to Chan Tai-Li for compensating the movie’s cliché-ridden plot with enough action (I particularly enjoy the elaborate knife fight between Richie Ren and Dang Shanpeng) to keep things moving. Frankly, if it wasn’t for Kenji Tanigaki’s involvement as the action director, this movie would have been a lot worse.
Despite being a straight-to-streaming movie, the combination of well-choreographed action set pieces and visceral camerawork is cinematic enough. The action is crisply directed with none of the jittery-camera nonsense that resulted into an incomprehensible mess. As a director helming an action movie for the first time, Chan Tai-Li certainly learned a lot from some of the directors (Wilson Yip seems to be his obvious inspiration here) that he has collaborated in the past.
The rest of the cast, however, is a mixed bag including Sebrina Chen and Waise Lee, where the latter appears as Zhang’s superior. Yu Kang shows up as the leader of the human trafficking ring and while we get to see him squaring off against Richie Ren’s Zhang Tu towards the end, the final fight scene is rather anticlimactic.