Rating: 3 star out of 5
The hero is a goofy never-been-kissed circus clown performing in Malaysia, who has big dreams of becoming a much-admired knife thrower.
The woman is a pretty Hong Kong TV journalist who is told she’s over the hill and unceremoniously yanked off the news anchor position.
The bad guy is another circus performer, whose skill also involves hurling piercing objects with great power and accuracy.
Then there are two super-cops from China, who specialise in capturing extraordinary criminals with a combination of kungfu fighting and lightning-quick acupuncture.
At the end of it all, there is a bizarre love triangle involving two freakishly strong knife-throwing mutant men, and the hapless journalist, who has no expertise in anything sharp.
At one point, highly reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, the journalist (Shu Qi) lectures the baddie (Colin Chou) on love, and how the now horrendously mutated criminal will never understand or experience true love.
I am not making any of this up. All of the above are true of the new sci-fi movie directed by Benny Chan (New Police Story, Connected) and starring two-time Golden Horse best actor Aaron Kwok, who plays the guileless protagonist clown.
Does it sound far-fetched? Certainly. Is it hard to follow? Not particularly. Is it entertaining? Yes, it is one of the most absurdly, improbably funny – intended or otherwise – and entertaining sci-fi movies I have ever come across.
And for all its rocky story development, indulgent action sequences and over-the-top acting, it’s fun because one cannot predict, through instinct or experience, what comes next.
It borrows elements of X-Men, includes a premise involving dastardly Japanese biochemical experiments in Malaysia during World War Two, and frequently lapses into corny slapstick comedy, with some requisite romantic entanglement thrown in.
At the beginning, Sunny (Kwok) is an unwilling participant in a treasure hunt that uncovers the long-abandoned Japanese experiments and exposes him and five circus cohorts (Chou included) to a biochemical weapon.
All mutate, gain preternatural strength, but while the others grow wildly barbaric and thoroughly ugly, Sunny goes through a period of bloating, water retention – literally – before regaining his lean good looks. We are told this is the result of, well, good genes.
Somehow, all the mutants end up in Hong Kong, the baddies creating mayhem while Sunny becomes a folk hero for stopping a bank robbery. In swoops the journalist and love-interest Angel (Shu), who becomes his business manager.
Brilliant! The mutant hero, whose powers peak when he is distressed like The Hulk (but he turns red instead of green), becomes a media commodity and sponsors’ dream in materialistic Hong Kong.
While the bad guys plot more crime and plan to do Sunny harm, the two China super-cops (Wu Jing and Zhang Jingchu) enter to provide some nifty martial-arts fighting, acupuncture needles in hand, that recall Wolverine – in reduced circumstances – in action.
Oftentimes, City Under Siege will have you bewildered and uneasy. The plot veers off in strange tangents, there are gaping holes in the plot, and there is an unnecessary weepy side-story of the super-cops, who are a couple, suffering the consequences of their dangerous line of work.
For all its flaws, Chan’s film is like that freak six-car pile-up on the expressway you can’t help but eye while you drive your car past the scene. One also cannot take one’s eyes off Kwok, whose character can be described as part-Forrest Gump and part-Incredible Hulk.
With knife-throwing ability tossed in for good measure, of course.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.