Director: Wong Jing
Producer: Wong Jing
Cast: Andy Lau, Huang Xiaoming, Michelle Hu, Shen Teng, Wong Cho-lam, Michelle Hu, Nana Ouyang, Fung Bo Bo, Wu Yue, Xie Yilin, Mao Junjie, Xu Dongdong, Shen Teng, Zhao Yingjun, Qi Wei, Ken Lo, Philippe Joly
Running Time: 103 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Remember the big fuss that was made when Jackie Chan made his 100th movie? Well, that same fuss isn’t being applied to Hong Kong auteur Wong Jing’s 100th movie sitting in the director’s chair, but nevertheless it’s here in the form of Mission Milano. While some may likely shake their heads and find it entirely incomprehensible that a filmmaker like Jing could make 100 movies, it’s easy to forget that he has been responsible for some of the territories classics, despite how often he resorts to the lowest common denominator. In the 35 years since he debuted at the Shaw Brothers studio with Challenge of the Gamesters in 1981, his name does also belong to such classics as Casino Raiders and God of Gamblers.
Throughout his career, one of his most frequent collaborators has been the seemingly ageless Andy Lau. They worked together on both of the movies mentioned, and have also collaborated on plenty of Jing’s less than stellar efforts, such as 1993’s Future Cops, and even as recently as 2010’s Future X-Cops (it’s worth noting the movies are not related to each other). Lately Jing has been coasting on the nostalgia and good will of his Lunar New Year comedy series From Vegas to Macau, of which the most recent 3rd instalment reunited both Lau and Chow Yun Fat in the roles they played in the original God of Gamblers. While audience’s patience levels have varied for these movies, the general consensus on From Vegas to Macau 3 was that it was an intolerable mess (I turned it off after 20 minutes). Perhaps sensing that a 4th instalment so soon after wouldn’t be such a wise decision, instead Jing has decided to give us secret agent Andy Lau for Mission Milano.
What’s immediately noticeable in Mission Milano is that it shares exactly the same aesthetic as the From Vegas to Macau series. Everything is a little too clean and crisp, bringing a certain detachment from reality to proceedings, one which could arguably be intentional. While introducing Lau as a suave Chinese 007 style character may be a departure from his From Vegas to Macau shenanigans, perhaps an aspect that Jing didn’t bank on is that he has, intentionally or not, essentially made Switch 2. A sequel being made to that movie is about as likely as Sammo Hung fitting into a 30 waist, and for good reason, with even Lau himself publicly apologising for his appearance in such a disastrous effort. While Jay Sun’s 2013 celluloid car crash was actually a serious effort at giving the world a Chinese James Bond, Mission Milano knows it’s nothing more than a silly piece of Wong Jing throw away entertainment.
Jing himself admits that he makes movies which plug into what’s popular at the time, a factor which no doubt has contributed to him reaching his 100th movie in just 35 years (Chang Cheh still couldn’t hit 100 even in 44 years), and Mission Milano is a perfect example of disposable filmmaking. It’s colourful, features handsome stars being handsome, regular doses of action, comedy that’s both preposterous and protracted, and a bevy of well-endowed females. It’s a formula that Jing has stuck to time and time again when he doesn’t really want to try (lest we forget that sometimes he does), dating all the way back to the likes of 1993’s City Hunter. Strip away Jackie Chan’s amazing fight and stunt-work, and you’d be left with what could perhaps best be described as an early 90’s version of Mission Milano.
While Hong Kong cinema has long since lost the level of action talent that peaked in the 80’s through to the early 90’s, Jing seems to have at least a basic understanding of what audiences require from an action movie. Here he takes a break from teaming up with his current regular action choreographer, Lee Tat-Chiu, and has instead teamed up with Dion Lam. Lam has been busy as of late, choreographing the likes of both the fantasy adventure League of Gods and Shaw Brothers remake Sword Master. Lam was actually part of the choreography team that worked on Future Cops 23 years prior, and has worked with Jing and Lau on separate projects on numerous occasions since then. Here he gets to choreograph a number of scuffles, and at least has the talents of Lau, and martial artists like Wu Yue and Ken Lo, to work with.
The plot, like most of Jing’s action comedies, is entirely nonsensical, and frequently doesn’t play much of a part in anything happening onscreen. But for those that are interested, suave agent Andy Lau is assigned to look into a super-rich heir played by Huang Xiaoming, who’s created a revolutionary technology called the Seed of God. Basically, put one of these Seeds of God down anywhere, add a few drops of water, and out sprouts a fully grown, ridiculous looking CGI tree. World hunger problems – sorted. However the evil Japanese Crescent Gang, led by Wu Yue, want to steal it and sell it on to an even more evil crime syndicate, who have an evil plan to use the same technology to produce untold amounts of cocaine. Clearly, these guys must be stopped.
After an initial confrontation, that takes the form of an extended comedy sequence in which Lau gets beaten up by Xiaoming’s dementia ridden mother, and a ridiculous car chase which makes no sense, Lau and Xiaoming become friends. Lau even confesses to Xiaoming that he got divorced 2 years ago and still misses his ex-wife, however by the end of the movie the script has changed so that Lau is still married, and reunites with his separated spouse (a cameo appearance to provide fan service for HK film buffs). Details like this are clearly not supposed to be paid much attention to, but they’re so incongruous to the plot that they stick out like a sore thumb, drawing attention to the incredible laziness and lack of attention that has been paid to the script.
As the title suggests, Lau, Xiaoming (and his siblings played by Wong Cho-Lam and Nana Ou-Yang) end up packing their bags and heading to Milan to try and intercept the Crescent Gang, who have stolen the technology. It’s worth noting that the scene in which they steal it involves the use of some completely ridiculous sonic guns, but then considering later Lau is using his mobile phone as a lightsaber, perhaps I should retract that statement. You’d think Milan would be a great opportunity for some local flavoured action, but that many of the scenes take place indoors I’d pose the question if any location shooting was actually done at all, or if it was all green screen.
Speaking of green screen, the finale is basically recycled from From Vegas to Macau 2, with everyone converging on a cargo plane to duke it out and ensure good prevails. Considering all the flashy visuals which have been onscreen until this point, I can only surmise that the budget must have run out during the finale. Some scenes of Lau speeding down the runway on his motorbike, trying to catch the plane before it’s airborne, look like a 1990 computer game cut scene. With limited parachutes to go around, the final moments when Jing tries to suddenly make us connect with our doomed heroes is hilariously misguided, but what’s even sadder is that such a scene isn’t all together unexpected.
Perhaps the best compliment that I can give Mission Milano is that I watched it to the end, which is more than I could say for From Vegas to Macau 3. However it’s also a perfect example of how Wong Jing has never learnt that less is more, and now with the latest CGI technology at his disposal, he simply doesn’t seem to have an ability to pace the tone of his movies. But then this is nothing new, the technology may be, but the bombardment of crass jokes, frantic action, and incoherent storytelling are as much a Wong Jing trademark as they are a sign of incompetent filmmaking. Mission Milano delivers exactly what you expect it to, and doesn’t dwell in the memory for more than a few minutes after the credits roll. So if you have 100 minutes to spare, proceed with caution, but for everyone else, this is one mission that’s perhaps best not accepted.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4/10