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An accomplished martial artist, Kong (Jacky Wu Jing) is propositioned to compete in Hong Kong’s most notorious underground fighting circuit. Initially reluctant to take part for fear of being kicked off the Olympic team, his girlfriend Siu Tin (Miki Yeung), eventually talks him round, and acts as his manager, negotiating huge payouts for him if he wins a fight. As the tournaments continue, Kong proves to be an unstoppable fighting machine. However, as time goes on Kong finds himself being sucked into a ruthless criminal underworld he has trouble escaping.

Fatal Contact

Feature


Ever since 1995 when Rumble in the Bronx hit big at the US box office, Hollywood have been searching for foreign language martial arts movies to buy the rights for relatively cheaply and put out in cinemas and hope for another. By and large, Hollywood failed to make the films a hit and settled for placing action stars such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-fat in English language movies and having more success. It took all the way until 2003 with a little film called Ong Bak to make studios realise that they don't have to own an expensive arthouse film such as Hero to make money, and again are trying to find the next hit.

Fatal Contact
Much like Ong Bak, Fatal Contact (or Hak Kuen to give the film its traditional title) uses the concept of both legal and underground fighting competitions as its background, an action sub-genre that Hollywood used in the late 80s and early 90s to variable results, both in quality and box office. These were dubbed 'death ring' movies by genre fans, with titles ranging from theatrical releases such as Bloodsport and Best of the Best, down to DTV dreck like Heatseeker. The genre has made a comeback of late with movies like Jet Li's Unleashed, which despite its impressive cast, was a throwback to those old 'death ring' movies, the more traditional Redbelt from no less than David Mamet, and of course Ong Bak. This means that Fatal Contact immediately throws it's hat into a crowded ring, and it unfortunately comes out rather bloodied.

Fatal Contact
The film earns some sense of respect for being an old school Chinese brawler that is not afraid to focus equal running time with character and relationships. However this does mean that the one side of the story literally stops dead for the other side, meaning the drama jars with the admittedly full on fight sequences. When the action does come, it is undeniably hard hitting. Well choreographed and surprisingly brutal at times, this is impressive stuff. Despite the budget being low, the fights are well staged and shot with some interesting angles. Although not as wire free as Ong Bak, the action still packs a punch.

Fatal Contact
The drama and romance element also sits well on its own terms, with the relationship between Kong and Siu Tin well portrayed. The script takes the pair down some surprisingly left field avenues, particularly as Siu Tin struggles balancing ruthless business tactics with concern for her lover's life, and ending with a surprisingly downbeat ending I didn't see coming. This isn't exactly Jackie Chan's Gorgeous we're talking about here.

I think it's safe to say that if Fatal Contact was split into the separate genres it tackles, They would both would be more successful than the whole. The route the drama takes is strong, but it leads to a climax that simply lacks the satisfying payoff that a martial arts actioner demands. The filmmakers took a gamble with the route the story takes, and that is very admirable. However, it's quite likely the core audience will be left short changed by the time the credits roll.

Fatal Contact
Video
I've noticed that quite a few times recently, smaller DVD releases are following the trend of trimming the original aspect ratio of the picture. Fatal Contact is no exception. Cropped from the OAR of 2:35.1 to 1:78.1, this film suffers terribly as a result. The framing is way too tight, with fights literally spilling off of the edges of the screen on numerous occasions. Wide shots are acceptable, but if it's a tight shot on an action sequence, the images are literally a mess of limbs that rendered grabbing action screen caps nigh on impossible. The quality of the transfer also suffers by the zooming in, with a particularly distracting amount of grain in the darker scenes, and a distinct lack of sharpness throughout. Disappointing.

Audio
On the official release disc, the viewer is offered the option of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround, both in Cantonese. However, on the preview disc I received the 5.1 option simply defaults to the 2.0 track. Luckily, the surround audio is solid, with a really crunchy mix in the fight scenes. Purists will be pleased there is no English dub available, and overall the audio comes across far stronger than the image. I can't see the 5.1 on the official release being any weaker, so fans won't be let down here.

Fatal Contact
Features
Any fans of the film who are drooling at the region one version in all its two disc glory and patiently waiting for the UK version are going to be very frustrated. Stripped of all of the region one features, this only contains a ‘Making of’, which is weak to say the least. With no interviews with the cast or crew, the lack of soundbites leave this as being a very long B-roll. Also included is a gag reel that doesn't outstay its welcome too long, two theatrical trailers and a gallery of forthcoming Cine Asia titles such as Donnie Yen's Flashpoint. Fans of the movie may well be disappointed.

Fatal Contact
Overall
Although the film rises above its low budget origins and shows itself to be a fairly strong character driven action movie, it's hard to say if this film will find an audience any wider than its core fanbase. If you want to see something that tries to be a little bit different, I'd say give this a look. However, if you're already a fan I'd suggest importing the US disc.


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