From the team that brought Taiwan the high flying 1920s-1930s Shanghai set actioner Revanchist, it's safe to assume they stuck together for two movies in a row or simultaneously and hence 21 Red List also came out in 1994. And if Once Upon A Time In China could put forth belief that over the top, gravity defying action could fit in a more rooted reality, so could this Taiwanese production...twice!
China, 1915. A secret and unequal treaty that would increase Japan's dominance over China is about to be signed unwillingly but not before external forces jump in to make sure it never happens. Therefore both the US and a small band of thieves and orphans (among them Lau Sek-Ming and Alexander Lo Rei) are ordered by their foster father (Zhang Feng-Yi) to track it down in Shanghai. Feeling an unease in terms of their involvement in high politics all of a sudden, it becomes clear there's a traitor in the group...
While it makes for a fantastic double bill with Revanchist, it is the junior compared to the big daddy in this company. Much having to do with more of a varied tone that doesn't find a footing until director Chong Yan-Gin and crew tap into the action hysterics that made their other 1994 effort so successful. We do get early evidence of fair gunpower, good squib work and director/cinematographer Chong showcasing a frame with perfectly respectful design and scope but the somewhat tongue in cheek and comedic tone don't do many favours for the film.
It helps even within this lighter aura that action director Alexander Lo Rei is put to work delivering quality fights and stunts but it's not until the hour mark 21 Red List finds its flow. Thankfully it never argues its importance as a political or a character piece. It's a perfectly sufficient backdrop for the amped up action and action is not a flimsy excuse here. Especially not when deigning it THIS way AGAIN!
Lo Rei is not only the acting standout as he's quite a compelling, low-key brute within this family turmoil of betrayal and bloodshed, he puts the ladies into the often painful, fast and creative action as well. With quite heavy emphasis on swords rather than guns (the weapon of choice in Revanchist), he leans on stuntmen and leads Lau Sek-Ming and Zhang Feng-Yi again for a showdown where politically a lot is at stake. Yet the character take off, literally fly and it's a joy to see Lo Rei having as much fuel in him for two movies featuring this style. It's a thrill that's way too undiscovered so don't let a somewhat uneven tone put you off because when first blood is spilt, director Chong, Lo Rei and the actors rarely look back as they do their thing several feet in the air most of the time.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson