When I watched the movie, I felt that it is actually not as bad as the trailer suggests it will be. The movie is something like the erratic trailer, flashing quickly between Ying, Donnie's character, Sao and Niehu, Ying's sworn brothers, the police department led by Simon Yam's character, and Donnie Yen's memories of the past that reveals more of the plot. At the last part of the story, the characters crossed path and our thirst for action was finally quenched.
While it is not exactly non-linear storytelling, the jumping of scenes can be confusing and it was hard to tell how far it is from the ending at any point of time. Storyline and scene planning aside, I shall review this movie from another perspective, a martial artist, a Kung Fu man's perspective.
Iceman 3D's multi-genre approach is what made it very entertaining. Fusion of different genres always creates new frontiers for movies and movies like Iceman takes things to a new level.
I was compelled to watch the movie no matter how poor the script might turn out to be, because the action scenes from the trailer seemed so cool. Come on, I am a Kung Fu enthusiast, of course I'll be thrilled to watch a movie which portrays ancient martial arts capable of matching modern firepower and technology.
There are some things in the movie which are different from what I expected. For example, I thought the counter-terrorist troopers were shot by darts fired by crossbow traps hidden in the building. They are actually chopsticks which the protagonist threw through the glass at the troopers. I'd still prefer my original guess to be the actual thing that happened. Like the traps that Rambo set up in First Blood to stop his pursuers in the forest, something cool like this will leave a huge impression.
Fight scenes are still the main attraction of the movie, especially when so many of us watched the movie to see Donnie Yen's fight scene and support his films. In this movie especially, fight scenes took place in many different places such as the snow mountain, city streets and back alleys at night, clubbing nightspots and a highway bridge in Hong Kong.
Few movies Donnie made has had him fighting in so many different environments so it is very refreshing. If action movies like Jackie Chan's Who Am I and Spy City are made today, perhaps with a little CG effects, we'll definitely watch them because the idea is so cool.
There are many of us who do not want to fantasize ourselves as shady gangstaz slugging with other gangstaz in some shanty town, that genre's somehow been saturated. How about a Kung Fu expert transcending the ancient battlefield into the urban center, office buildings, roads and outskirts of a city?
In the movie, Ying the protagonist hopped from the ceiling of a bus to another, taking him to different parts of Hong Kong island and new territories. Hong Kongers will certainly be very familiar with the roadsigns and the places the scenes took place in.
A thing to note is the movie's immense capital, USD32million. That would've been enough to purchase many many Lambourghinis. It also means that movie producers and investors are pumping in more energy to propel the Hong Kong movie industry to new standards.
In the movie, Ying displayed great mobility with his 'Qing Gong' light flying skill, making him capable of leaping great distances and making little sound, concealing his presence. He also showed that a witty elite soldier is capable of infiltrating organizations with superior manpower and equipment resources. This tells a message that a determined hero can be capable of taking on a big organization led by a corrupt leader.
The plot is actually not that poorly made out, it's just that the scenes were jumping around too much without an order of importance in the story and flow of plot progression, making it confusing. Other movies especially of the art genre made good use of nonlinear storytelling and flashbacks, but a multi-genre action heavy cannot be diluted further, else its goodness will be lost.
They should narrow down to just two flashbacks, one in India and one in China introducing Ying's background and history with his brothers. Why not mash up into multiple scenes? Because we want to enjoy the action scenes! Action scenes that make up the huge bulk of the USD32m budget!
We were also confused by how Donnie Yen fainted and ended up in the hospital. He was shot? Or he just fainted due to suffering from amnesia after being frozen so long? Ying's not an anime boy character, he is a Ming warrior with health and vitality from practicing qigong. Jackie didn't faint for no obvious reason, Rambo didn't faint for nothing, Thor didn't faint out of the blue. They fight till lights out. A fight scene in the place of the hospital scene will be better.
The story ended abruptly with a cliffhanger that advertised a sequel.
One area that went well was that the personalities of the characters in the story were well highlighted. Ying is a responsible and loyal good guy, May (Eva Huang) is a club going girl who's centered around personal gain, Cheung (Simon Yam) is a scheming police superintendent who is is ruthless in dealing with his target as well as his subordinates. Sao (Wang Baoqiang) is a maniac who has strong personal hatred in his relationship with Ying and a weird way of dealing with people, Niehu is as funky as his brother except being the burly big brother who possesses great strength. Though the movie is not most brilliantly put together, these characters indeed left a strong impression.
I feel that the martial art specialties of each Ming warrior should be put to greater contrast, as they are the 'superheroes' of this movie. The only one who stood out is Niehu who showed great strength in dealing with his opponents in unarmed combat, and hacking through metal with his giant axe. He also has a unique lion's roar ability. Sao has a weird way of moving which is similar to Ying's spider-like crawling.
To further express the uniqueness of each fighter's martial art skill, the creators could also use something like those 'fight science' animations in Wuxia, or training scenes like Dragon Tiger Gate.
Speaking of Ming warriors fighting in modern Hong Kong, the weapons are important. However I feel that the weapons are not as detailed and refined enough to stand out with the characters. The axe's head is too big and does not look like a Chinese axe, resembling more of a European axe. Sao's round shield is also too big, and similarly is not designed like a Chinese shield. Shields of that size should technically be rectangular shields.
A good example will be Storm Riders, or Feng Yun. Their weapons are very well matched with the character design and just the right size to be wielded.
The action pact final fight scene on the bridge was still very epic with Ying tossing his iron chains at his enemies while riding a white horse.
Besides Ying throwing chopsticks instead of triggering crossbows, I was very disappointed the character doing kickboxing was not given a chance in the script to fight with Ying. As Cheung (Simon Yam) gave him the Lambourghini keys and made him out to be his top henchman, he was put out of action on the bridge scene too soon.
We thought we will see an epic 'Ancient Kung Fu vs. Modern Kickboxing' fight scene in this movie after the character was introduced. Especially in an ancient meets modern movie, such a fight is imminent! As Ying is the protagonist he will most likely triumph over this guy, at least with a bit of a hard fight. It should feel like the Ip Man vs Northerner fight scene, with Ying taking the kickboxer apart with his profound and elusive moves. The henchman will hang in there with his red bull attitude but the Ming warrior will eventually put him out of commision with nei gong (internal strength).
Another disappointment is that Simon Yam didn't fight in the movie, despite being the mastermind of the evil scheme. An obvious disappointment will be that Donnie Yen didn't fight with the sword that he was shown in the movie poster. We thought there will be a swordfight, or at least a Ming Warrior impaling gunmen and he strides past them with his Qing Gong.
To sum it up, this movie could be a breakthrough in Hong Kong action movies if the story development was planned better. The rest of the Ming warriors should be given more focus too. There can be more fight scenes when the humor is paused and the mood becomes serious.
There are already news of the sequel being made. The loyal Kung Fu movie supporters certainly hope the creators can make a better movie after reflecting on the response from the first movie. If this idea of a new genre succeeds, the upcoming movie will truly be a new benchmark in Kung Fu action cinema, and we can expect to see more movies about modern day Kung Fu superheroes in the future.
Movie Review By Leroy Kwok