The Enforcer (1995)
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The Enforcer (1995)

Most genres of films have a set group of guidelines that define them and must be met to fulfill the expectations of the audience. One of the most rigid genres is the action flick, particularly those that hail from Hong King. In order to build a plot you need elements such as a martial arts master, a good dollop of jealousy and a hefty dose of revenge. Even though this makes this type of flick fairly predicable the fans either don’t notice or more probably don’t care. The reason is these are among the most energetic and enjoyable type of action movie and you really go to them to see the amazing, gravity defying stunt work. It has be a number of decades since Hong Kong action movies have migrated to the States and during that time a few actors, and a couple of actresses, have become stars not only in their native country but have become international superstars in the genre. One man stands on top of the heap untouchable by all others in the field; Jet Li. He has done what few of his exalted group has managed to do, move over here and still maintain his stardom. For a long time the top of the profession was held by Bruce Lee. He paved the way for all those that would follow in his footsteps. He also was able to star in a few projects that originated here in the States. Bruce Lee films were considered the gold standard in Asian martial arts films until the early eighties when Jet Li came on the scene and quickly dominated it. His films are constructed in much the same way as any Hong Kong flick is but there is a very large difference. His films have certain panache; an unspeakable something special that elevates his work from stunts to an art form. One of the latest of his films to come to DVD is ‘The Enforcer’ from 1995. It is not considered one of his best works but it still is head and shoulders above anything else around. The Weinstein Company and Genius Productions have a distribution division that is most likely already well known among the devotees of the genre, Dragon Dynasty. They are handling the release of the DVD for this film and as usual they do a splendid job. The movie has a predicable story but it is the martial arts of Jet Li that makes this a must have film.

The writers of the screenplay were Sandy Shaw and Jing Wong. Shaw has been in the field since the early eighties and Wong since the late seventies. Both had extensive experience in the action arena so this is far from something new to them both. There is basically three forms a hero for this type of film can take. He can either be a police officer, a criminal looking for redemption or a dedicated monk framed for some heinous crime. In this case Wong and Shaw chose the highroad and made Li an action oriented police officer. You then need a dastardly villain that is a match for our dedicated hero. This screenplay nicely provides a many without scruples that is determined to use his mob of thugs to rule the underworld and the city. One of the aspects found in a lot of Asian action flicks is the attention to the personal details of the characters. American films of the same type tend to provide a few details of problems at home or on the job to help humanize the characters but in the Asian variation the focus is much deeper. This is used here with style and a bit of flair. It is very important since the hero has to be capable of superhuman feats of agility and strength so there is a need to bring him down to our level in order for the audience to relate to him on an emotional level. Some American fans may find this corny and contrived but it has to be remembered that the story comes from a culture that is radically different from our own. This is a different setting for Jet Li. Many of his early films were period pieces set in historical settings. In this film Li gets to show his stuff in a modern setting. It does detract a little from the charm that the temple flicks had but Li is a professional and makes the transition with ease. Wong has a specialty in action movies and that is the introduction of more comic aspects to his stories. That is to say that he enjoys adding a bit of slapstick. Think Jackie Chan when you go to one of his stories.

Corey Yuen has been directing this type of movie since the early seventies and has it down to a science by this point. His use of camera angles and lighting serves to highlight the action in such a fashion that you will forget that the fights are choreographed more intensively than the Metropolitan Ballet. There is a special skill set required to pull of a film of this sort. The director has to switch gears from telling an emotional story to fast paced action that will wow an audience that is jaded by their emersion in the genre. Yuen is able to do this far better than most of his contemporaries. He is a story teller that is comfortable with the slower moving aspects of the story yet is able to pull out the stops when it comes for the action. There is a little light hearted fun included to offset the drama of the emotional stories in the plot. Li is at his best with the more serious side of martial arts but when the situation calls for it he can call on an innate sense of humor that he obviously possesses.

Kung Wei (Jet Li), works in the police department of the People’s Republic of China. His current assignment is to investigate potential terrorist in the area. The bosses want Wei to go undercover with the mob associated with the terrorists and to further that goal they pair him with an ex-con who has ties to the mob and they hope he can get Wei into the organization and get to its boss Po Kwong (Rongguang Yu). This is a lot to cope with for Wei especially since he has more than enough troubles at home. His wife is very sick and their son Ku Kung (Miu Tse) is becoming one of the youngest martial arts students to master the form. Wei has to miss an all important match and ceremony because of the demands of the case. Wei and his informant have to tread lightly since Po is known as one of the cruelest men around who would not think twice about kicking a disappointing henchman off a tall building. In order to maintain his undercover identity Wei has to go along with some crimes which blows back on his son who gets into a fight with some school toughs over it. Wei finds himself loose his grasp on his home life and is trying desperately to build the required case against Po.

While this is a film that will never be placed in the list of top action flicks it is solid entertainment and a whole lot of fun to watch. The story loses some of its narrative along the way but overall it is a great popcorn flick. The movie sports a very good video mastered in 185:1 anamorphic which is accompanied by a dubbed Dolby 5.1 audio in English. As is the case with most releases from Dragon Dynasty there are enough extras to let you get the most out of the experience.


Feature Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan


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Posted 02/16/09

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