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Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy
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by Jay Seaver

"From Rubik's Cubes to running with the bulls, more goring than boring."
3 stars

This only covers what's been released in North America, but "Line Walker 2" is Louis Koo's third movie in as many months to be numbered like the second in the series without actually being a sequel, which is an impressively productive year but also very confusing, considering that the first "Line Walker" movie was explicitly a continuation of a TV series. Truth be told, I didn't realize this one wasn't connected until I got home and re-read my review from 2016, and now I'm wondering if maybe I wouldn't have enjoyed it more if I'd been treating it as its own crazy thing rather than trying to reconcile it with the previous story.

(Don't tell me a character played by one of the returning actors died last time; who remembers every detail of every movie they saw three years ago and has time to rewatch it even if it were on a service they subscribe to?)

This one starts by flashing back thirty-odd years to an orphanage in the Philippines, where two friends are inseparable until someone gets wind of just how brilliant they are. In the present, a financial CEO gets in his car and drives it into a crowd. The police are tipped off by Yiu Ho Yee (Jiang Pei Yao), a freelance reporter and hacker who has uncovered evidence of a global conspiracy - which has placed moles in the HKPD long ago. She was brought in by Central Intelligence Bureau's Ching To (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai), with Yip Chi Fan (Francis Ng Chun-Yu) spearheading the investigation, but Security Wing head Cheng Chun Yin (Louis Koo in-Lok) soon takes over, as it falls under his jurisdiction. She has more data with her colleague Bill (Liu Yuning) in Myanmar, but a joint operation between Cheng, Ching, and local SWAT goes south, leaving one missing, one wounded, and reverberations felt all the way in Madrid, where mysterious Mr. Tung (Huang Zhizhong) is masterminding the cabal's response.

You kind of have to respect this sort of movie's deep commitment, even if it's commitment to being dumb but energetic. There is not quite a new twist every ten minutes, but it can sometimes seem that way, especially when since they never quite seem done with the implications of the last one by the time they get to the next. The film is built around paranoia and puppet masters, and long term conspiracies playing out, but there's never quite time to marinate in this and have the characters look at each other sideways like they can't be trusted. You can sometimes justify this later by showing that characters knew things before it was obvious, but that just explains things retroactively (and often incompletely); the earlier scenes don't become more exciting retroactively. Eventually, it's kind of like the Rubik's Cubes the characters play with - you can twist them into a lot of arrangements but most are just gibberish, and the solution doesn't really mean anything.

Does that mean the twisting isn't fun? Nah, it's a blast, even if it means nothing's going to last more than five minutes or so, because writer Cat Kwan Ho-Ming goes all-in on making sure that all the sides have enough resources and brains to use them to make these secret wars cool, while director "Jazz Boon" Man Wai-Hung and the action team led by Chin Ka-Lok are really good at smashing things up and blowing them to pieces. The film is chaotic and eventful enough that I don't know which faction had the anti-riot vehicle with the magnetic tear gas canisters, but I love it, along with the CGI bull in the finale that is both right at the edge of the uncanny valley and impressively indestructible - why should humans be the only people able to lurch around after such a bullet ballet, powered only by the need for vengeance, after all?

There's less completely nutty action throughout, and while Chin can easily be pigeonholed as a car guy (a couple of the best bits here certainly do involve automobiles getting tossed around), he's good at staging big, less-mechanical fights as well. That debacle in Myanmar, for instance, is very solid indeed, and an early fight on a bus is a pretty great way to switch from the grim violence that establishes the stakes at the start to the larger-than-life conflict.everyone will be drawn into. The filmmakers do seem to get a bit wobbly in the end, when they've got to split things between locations and try to knit together stock footage, practical work, and CGI for a chase that involves the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Everybody being a suspect can make things tricky for the actors, who are by and large at their best when they get to be the most hostile. Louis Koo and Nick Cheung, for instance are okay playing coy, but are much more fun ripping into each other (and as an aside, I'm not sure what the costume department is doing for Koo's Cheng early on, but those loud suits either mark him as an escapee from a 1980s movie or just a little extra intrusive). Francis Ng plays nicely off the pair of them, keeping things moving smoothly early on, so it's no surprise that when they're all in the same place when a gun battle breaks out, they seem to work together with ease. There's not much room for ladies in that sort of brotherhood, though, which explains why Jiang Pei Yao often doesn't seem enough to do as Yiu Ho Yee despite how often the audience is told how accomplished and invested she is. Huang Zhizhong and Zhang Yichi at least seem to be having a blast as the villains.

It's not a bad bit of Hong Kong action, and should "Line Walker 3" come out in a couple of years, I'll certainly go in expecting another take on the same idea rather than a follow-up On the other hand, it sure seems like they set a lot up here that will need another movie to finish up..

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originally posted: 08/19/19 13:29:28
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  08-Aug-2019 (MA)

Directed by
  Jazz Boon

Written by
  Cat Kwan

  Nick Cheung
  Louis Koo
  Francis Ng
  Ho Yee Yiu
  Zhizhong Huang
  Yichi Zhang

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