Shaep Guns (2001)

Directed by: Billy Tang
Written by: Felix Chong & Cary Cheng
Producer: David Chan
Starring: Alex Fong, Ken Chang, Anya, Ken Wong, Moses Chan & Eric Wan

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I'll admit it. I do get a kick out of reviewing the obscure, unheard of movies out of Hong Kong cinema. They may be obscure for very good reasons and at other times, its underrated status is criminally unfair. Tastes differ, will always do, so sometimes it's not the question of the viewing audience not caring. Inhabiting Sharp Guns, a 2001 effort co-written by Felix Chong (Infernal Affairs), we find primarily two people that are underrated in Hong Kong cinema for one reason or another; director Billy Tang, who cemented his reputation in the 90s with movies such as Red To Kill, one of the strongest Category III movies of its time and Alex Fong, a leading man who has not received his deserved break yet sadly, despite memorable performances in Portland Street Blues and Till Death Do Us Part.

Drug trafficker On (Alex Fong) flies in from Holland to Macau in order to retrieve his boss's daughter who's been kidnapped by dirty cop Coke (Ken Wong). To get the job done, On puts together a small but effective team consisting of gun expert Wood (Ken Chang) and S&M killer Rain (Anya). After busting the daughter out of the police station where she's kept, facts are revealed that now makes the trio wanted both by the triads and the police...

While Sharp Guns isn't THE hidden gem Hong Kong cinema fans have been looking for, it nonetheless possesses a b-movie energy that entertains and the filmmakers in the end really show that they didn't take much of this seriously. Nor should we as the triad plot with twists, multiple double crosses and inept henchmen has been done to death before. With no really A-list people on the project, or a sizable budget, Tang makes good of what he got and has fun doing it.

Despite the apparent edgy, hard boiled surface, our introduction to characters reveals such over the top, comic book like, traits, such as Anya's ways of interrogation, Ken Chang's ability to detect gunpowder odor and of course Alex Fong's Tricky On character that simply never is less than on top of his game, that you can't help to smile a bit and just settle in for pure enjoyment. No one on this project set out to rival any classics or even dreamt of making a permanent mark on Hong Kong cinema either and Billy Tang, while this is nothing like his Cat III work, has got a held back sensibility about this kind of action-thriller that is commendable. As written, none of the characters rise out of either their stereotype or what they are for 90 minutes. That is, believe it or not, sufficient to carry forward and especially in Anya's case, who needs more than that fairly good intensity and looks to want to follow through with this narrative? Obviously, the plot exposition alarm goes off on a few occasions but early, Tang has already, non verbally, explained to us that our intentions are not sky high, nor should your expectations be. It may not add up logically, it's not refined storytelling but the characters and, what we're concentrating on next, Tang's eye for the visual, rarely makes Sharp Guns boring.

I say rarely because initially the movie seems to go just a tiny bit too slow towards main plot devices but Tang is soon comfortable giving us slick shots and select sparks of entertaining visuals. He seems to shoot his low angles to death, making the movie bigger as well as characters. In fact, he uses it so much that, if you're really going into overanalyzing, you tend to think that there's a satire on display here, directed towards the triad characters. Nevertheless, especially when the small bits of gunplay hits, Tang thankfully thinks better in editing together with action director Ma Yuk-Sing, resulting in a few pleasing set pieces.

Sharp Guns obviously doesn't reach anything more than decent, which is good enough and the criticism I do have against it is that it breaks out of its subtle and sly sense of humour to deliver full on comedy sometimes, courtesy of Ken Chang's character. It really doesn't benefit the film at all but thankfully, these excursions are only selected. In addition, the coda during the end credits seems like an outspoken plot point that comes out of nowhere. Odd inclusion. Ken Chang, and really everyone else, works better in the so called serious mood that their characters are in. Tang seems to have concentrated on that, in particular in the case of Anya's role as Rain. He gets decent intensity from her and that was more than I expected. Plus, male viewers won't complain about her wardrobes in the film. Alex Fong logs a playful, cool performance, possibly the one that helps the film reach the level it does. This is a cool cat. Period. And Fong injects touches of humour that definitely adds to the Tricky, in the Tricky On character. Alex has previously impressed with his reserved nature to performances but Sharp Guns brings out, slightly more I should say, the clown in him and he still impresses.

Sharp Guns is way different than what Billy Tang did with Red To Kill and Run And Kill. Both those movies have traits to them that still are evident in his work though. Namely sly, black humour and a good visual sense. This CatIIb rated effort from 2001 won't blow anyone's mind but quite simply, by not taking itself very seriously, the entertainment level unexpectedly reaches decent.

The DVD:

Mei Ah gives us a very sharp and detailed 1.85.1 framed transfer with the only drawback being that it's non-anamorphic.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 never really strays from the center channel but sounds clear throughout. A Mandarin 2.0 track is also available.

The English subtitles comes with minor errors only and do the job of conveying the twists and turns well. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras wise there's the almost always useless databank. It only contains a cast & crew listing and the plot synopsis also on the back cover of the dvd.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson