1998 (Lead / Director)
Nominated: Best Young Director, Yubari Fantastic Film Festival, Hokkaido, Japan.
The film was afforded special recognition at this prestigious annual event, which earlier served as a launching pad for the careers of Desperado helmer Robert Rodriguez, Reservoir Dogs creator Quentin Tarantino and Dark City director Alex Proyas.
Selected: Udine Film Festival, Italy.
The Udine Far Eastern Film Festival is an annual event dedicated to celebrating the very best of Asian cinema. Variety Chief Critic Derek Elley programs the festival and he is an acknowledged expert on the genre.
Selected: ‘Best of ‘98’ Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Critics Association, Hong Kong
Hong Kong film critics selected Ballistic Kiss alongside several more expensive films from more famous directors, citing it as a prime example of a film that deserved to find an audience in 1998.
Cat, a former Chinese New York cop, set up by his friend and former partner Wesley Wong, is falsely imprisoned. Upon his release, he becomes a professional hitman for hire in Hong Kong, only taking jobs to kill bad guys, fancying he’s still doing some good. Wong has also left the force, joining with criminals for financial gain. Cat meets up with his nemesis on a job, and their struggle begins. Meantime Cat has fallen in love with his neighbor, Carrie, a cop with the Hong Kong police, and she is on the trail of a murderer Cat.
With a half-dozen hyperkinetic gunplay scenes featuring Yen’s signature martial arts ballet, the film is also a romance, portraying a couple which cannot possibly be together, even though they should be. The film treats Hong Kong action as a mood piece. Elley appropriately calls it an ‘intense killer’s nocturne’ and Yen’s penchant for Chopin shows up in this dreamy and pensive meditation on love, life and death. The plot will be familiar to anyone who’s seen John Woo’s The Killer, a film Yen admires, for its hitman with heart storyline. But here the similarities end. Yen’s alienated killer (also portrayed by the director) believes ‘no one is innocent,’ and besides his angel, the female cop Carrie, characters cross and double cross each other with lightning speed. Conflicting and confused identities and impulses storm the screen.
Yen takes on the challenge of difficult fight sequences-- several times orchestrating many fighters and registering the confusion of a big fight. From the opening rooftop melee where Cat single-handedly takes on a gang to the final confrontation with his former partner, in which a fan and fluorescent light tube become weapons, Yen’s action sequences please. Most outstanding and complex is the apartment shootout where assassin Yu Wing-gong comes after Cat but becomes a danger to Carrie; here Yen builds an emotional rollercoaster ride. In fact, the more conventional action choreography of Yen’s early onscreen appearances is here supplanted by psychological motivation, dark emotion, and intense rhythm.
Camerawork itself becomes a character. Yen uses stylish artificial lighting-- primarily smoky blues but also lurid greens and reds-- to establish and sustain tone. Through collision editing of interactive shots and panning movements, close-up, slow-mo, flash pans, and white outs, he enhances the dramatic tension and provides strong visual contrasts. other admired art house filmmakers have done the same. But Yen’s camerawork reflects the conflict between Cat’s intense aggression and anger on the one hand, and the vulnerability and sensitivity buried in his heart, on the other, deepening the emotional ups and downs of the story.
The literal Chinese title best expresses the film’s direction-- Kill a Little, Dance a Little. As the hyperkinetic gunplay and martial arts action play themselves out, lyrical moments appear, resplendent-- Cat dancing with an imaginary partner in his apartment, a close-up of the sleeping Cat reflected in his darkened glasses, or a turning ceiling fan marking the duration of romance. Add the wistful soundtrack with lots of piano to complete a mood of longing. The film is still finding its audience while it continues to subvert the usual expectations and preconceptions an action audience brings to the movies.
Cast: Donnie Yen, Annie Wu, Jimmy Wong, Simon Lui, Yu Wing-gong, Vincent Kok, Lily Chow, Lok Ying-kwan, Michael Woods, John Hau, Conroy Chan, Vincent Ngan,
Andrew Chan, Karen Tong