Task Force (1997)
by: Patrick Leung
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1998:
Director Patrick Leung (Beyond Hypothermia and co-writer on Bullet In The Head) nowadays seems to have exercised his demons since he's lately been directing cute, fluffy entertainment, with Chan Hing-Kar (serving as writer on this film) such as La Brassiere. Nothing wrong with that, I welcome versatility but you have to track back in Leung's filmography to discover his. Task Force has been met with much acclaim, has cameos from people that featured prominently in the heroic bloodshed new wave of films and it's one of those films that makes a totally different impression on you than the dvd cover does.
The Mongkok Police Task Force consisting of rookie cop Rod Lin (Leo Koo), veteran but still police constable Lulu (Eric Tsang) and Shirley (Karen Mok) don't fight crimes as much as they fight own struggles in their lives. This near plotless film starts with Rod Lin, after setting up prostitute Fanny (Charlie Yeung), finding himself a victim of serious hassling by that particular girl...
Doing my slight read up on Patrick Leung's Task Force, I think Chin Kar Lok's action directing credit made me think this would be an entry in the heroic bloodshed genre. While that is partially true, this is primarily a surprisingly complex character drama that happens to emphasize that with a few action set pieces. What does detract from the final product is a BIT viewer detachment from the movie as a whole. Because Task Force really isn't a bad film by any means and Chan Hing-Kar's script does make the most important elements come full circle by the end. The road there however is a LITTLE on the frustrating scale.
The laid out structure is very much different from most movies featuring guns and violence. Leung does the right thing by letting the first reel be dominated by the main characters in the task force. Rod Lin, Shirley and Lulu are given a good amount of screentime in order for us to get to know them, Leo Koo's character provides voice over to add on that, a very clear comrade between the three is evident yet what sets in here is a pace not fully acceptable and really what's on screen isn't the most interesting portrayals or sympathy-inducing behaviour. This critique I can let go of because it's a journey for the entire running time but as said, there's a strange feeling of detachment, all up till a certain point toward the latter part of the film that is. The three police officers and the hooker Fanny are disconnected from different loved ones in their lives. The movie deals with that in different ways and offers different solutions for the problems. While fairly complex, it's again somewhere out there and not WITH the viewer that this takes place, until later when proceedings have grown on you.
Looking back at it, Task Force should indeed be applauded for challenging the audience with its character journeys. The central one between the happy, beautiful hooker Fanny (only in movies I tell you...) and young, stern, super nice, heroic police officer Rod Lin walks that line between contrived to interesting in its unpredictability. Eric Tsang's Lulu manages to express the meaning that you are allowed to feel bad for the unsympathetic things you've done to your loved ones but whether he in the end can repair any damage is another question. The movie therefore seems to offer only a few answers which in itself may seem totally unnecessary to have in a film but probably is truer to life also. Have to briefly mention the treat of seeing Eric Tsang doing a fight scene (he can be spotted in martial arts movies in the 70s such as Iron Fisted Monk) that plays to a memorable sub plot in regards to his character. One where he manages, through numerous brawls with a triad, form an unlikely friendship with him. That's a theme that runs through Task Force also. The main plot isn't about a fight against crime and therefore humanity on both sides is evident throughout the film in a nice touch. Karen Mok as Shirley is left a little in the background but also represents a somewhat bleak nature to the film as she desperately tries to salvage the unsteady relationship with her musician boyfriend. Between the four, there is a genuine care which makes the film take on a good weight but with less answers and journeys not finished off entirely, Task Force may not find a liking with all of you.
Patrick Leung made Task Force before the Hollywood influence came over Hong Kong cinema and the urban locations are put to good use. Also, the action set pieces by Chin Kar Lok are clearly there to evoke feelings of past, glorious action filmmaking. Which deep down is a purpose storywise by the filmmakers of Task Force as well. The films of John Woo dealt with characters in a very compelling way while also giving us THE premier action directing of the genre. Chin Kar Lok re-creates specific, classic moments from John's films including Hard Boiled and his best American made film Face/Off but doesn't go for the balletic nature as much. It's very well done but the camera language here, consciously, is of the messier kind, leading to the same desired feeling of the scenes. Chin Kar Lok himself appears briefly as does John Woo, Waise Lee & Stephen Tung.
That leads us to acting and the cast of Task Force do commendable job but are clearly not actors that currently alone can set the box office on fire. That's a risk you have to take. Either you cast talent or popularity (sadly the latter is truer in today's Hong Kong cinema). In the case of Task Force, Leo Koo leads the cast, decently so. Under the direction of Leung, Koo displays leading man charisma and decently pulls off the demanded traits to his character. The support from Eric Tsang and Karen Mok is good and they're dependable to have whatever mood the film decides to be in (playful, sad or violent). However, Charlie Yeung (one of the best things about Tsui Hark's flawed The Lovers) is the star here, logging a sympathetic portrayal of the hooker Fanny. Actually, it's not very sympathetic to begin with. She's annoying and a pest for Rod Lin but when we get to the end and have seen the developments occur, we understand her and what she wants with Rod Lin. Charlie is a terrific charming presence in many ways and brings quality to the production.
Task Force is a keeper and a character piece with ambitions on the higher scale. The viewing is plagued with a disjointed aspect to characters and pace but it grows during the running time, as will it during subsequent viewings I have a feeling of. It does succeed in reminding us of the great Hong Kong action pictures of the past while standing on its own two feet firmly. Give it a chance, again.
Universe presents Task Force in 1.77:1 aspect ratio approximately. Presentation is clean, sports good colours but appears too soft throughout.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn't give your system a whole lot of workout. Effects sounds rather thin and foleyed in but the main element of dialogue is presented well. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also available.
The English subtitles do good job with the aforementioned dialogue and I only spotted one spelling error. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available. Extras consists of trailers for Task Force and in keeping with the tone of the feature presentation, The Big Boss and Game Of Death trailers are also available. Decent Star's Files for Leo Koo, Charlie Yeung, Eric Tsang, Patrick Leung and producer Amy Chin finishes this dvd.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson