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Undercover vs. Undercover
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by Jay Seaver

"Cuz you gotta have undercover cop movies."
2 stars

"Undercover Punch and Gun" - or "Undercover vs. Undercover", if you prefer generic direct-to-video titles to ones where something seems to have been lost in a too-literal translation - is the sort of movie you get when the people whose job it is to grind out crime movies just have no inspiration but a looming deadline, so they take bits that have worked before and some of the ideas they haven't quite figured out and half-heartedly arrange them into a story. It's not very good even when the people involved are going about their work like professionals, and when it works, it almost seems to be by accident.

Two days ago, undercover detective King Wu (Philip Ng Wan-Lung) feared his cover was about to be blown as boss Brother Bob (Lam Suet) talked about there being a traitor in their midst just before a big deal, but he instead suspected Tiger (Wanness Wu Chien-Hao), because Bob has a bad tendency to sample the meth he sells. The buy is interrupted by an interloper and becomes a real mess, and while Wu's handlers want to pull him out, he feels like he's close to something, as he's dating Bob's daughter Dawnie (Aka Zhao Hui-Shan) and his designated successor. That's before he's contacted by both Magnum (Chui Shuai) and Eva (Joyce Feng Wen-Juan) of maritime law enforcement agency "Trident" and their target Ha (Andy On Chi-Kit), a former Trident agent who now works on the other side of the law and wants Wu to deliver Bob's drug cook.

First-time directors Philip Lui Koon-Nam and Frankie Tam Gong-Yuen have writing credits on a lot of better movies and have at least five other credited writers helping with the script, and it absolutely feels like a mix-and-match affair, where characters have a function but no real opinions or motivation outside of the single scene where one writer or another had the idea to do something with them. People and things are introduced and tossed away to create little circles that are self-contained but which never give the movie a feeling of moving in some direction, or any sort of point once it's done. It's an undercover cop movie that exists because these movies cost a certain amount and tend to make a little more, keeping a fair amount of Hong Kong actors employed.

The upside is that sometimes a screwy bit will land in the lap of an actor or a stunt coordinator who is better than the material or just taken enough to run with it, and you get Lam Suet doing a high-as-hell mob boss (although it looks like he's more fond of weed than meth), Vanness Wu as an absurdly laid-back gangster, or an extended cameo by Susan Siu Yam-Yam that steals the film and suggests a better one where people underestimate this sharp-tongued granny all the way through. Action scene will rack up such ridiculous body counts - while Nicolas Tse's handler tells his team to hold back - that one starts to suspect that this is meant at least partially as parody, except there's little irony to its pervasive mean streak.

Fortunately, the action will never let one too far down. Star Philip Ng also serves as stunt coordinator, and he's got a few strong sparring partners in the cast, so that part of the movie is always pretty strong. As star, he's often stuck with the least fun material, as Vanness Wu gets to do befuddled physical comedy while grabbing the roof of a speeding car while Andy On gets to sneer as the cheerfully amoral villain. Lui and Tam don't just sit back and let things happen, but they let Ng and Joe Chu Cho-Kuen keep things moving with seeming abandon, and while it's not as much fun as when there's a story around the fights to get invested in, it's easy to admire the craft, even before the film breaks out the Jackie Chan-style stunt outtakes during the credits.

The Hong Kong film industry used to crank out tons of these movies every year, enough that one or two would hit and make one of its leads a star and the rest would pass the time in between. "Undercover Punch and Gun" still feels cranked out but doesn't have nearly as much camouflage while the cameos hint at movie that should be a bigger deal, making it even more of a disappointment.

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originally posted: 01/11/20 06:24:11
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Directed by
  Philip Lui
  Frankie Tam

Written by
  Philip Lui
  Frankie Tam

  Philip Ng
  Vanness Wu
  Andy On
  Joyce Feng
  Aka Zhao

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