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As the influx of Hong Kong talent into Korean, European and U.S. movie making continues to increase, Hong Kong itself is beginning to feel the drain. Aside from the excellent Infernal Affairs, few films from the staples of action thriller or swordplay cinema have made much of an impression and indeed many have been overshadowed by overseas productions using the very talent that was previously the preserve of this very special corner of the world.

In the same year that Corey Yuen decamped to Europe to lens The Transporter using American money, he also helmed the rather less well known [/i]So Close[/i] (also known by the rather ropey title Virtual Weapon) in his native Hong Kong which, among other things, featured the star of both movies, Shu Qi.

So Close
Ah Lin (Zhoa Wei) and Ah Quen (Shu Qi) are highly-strung high-kicking and very hi-tech contract killer sisters. Bequeathed an extraordinary array of computer equipment, including a top-secret satellite-guided CCTV surveillance system, the pair operate a strict policy of eliminating only bad guys and avoiding the involvement of all innocents.

An especially audacious hit at a large corporation under the nom de guerre of the “Computer Angel” arouses the attention of athletic investigator Kong (Karen Mok) who struggles to convince her superiors of her theory of a female assassin. This latest job also persuades the greedy conglomerate to enrol outside assistance by enlisting the best hacker from the U.S. of A to locate and eradicate the external interference.

Matters are further complicated for the dynamic dyad when Ah Quen’s former flame returns to the area. Unaware of his beau’s extra-curricular activities the young man proposes and Ah Quen is persuaded to leave her lethal lifestyle for a wholly more wholesome vocation. However, the impetuous junior sibling, determined not to allow a sizeable paycheque go begging, embarks on an ill-advised solo mission that brings together Inspector Kong, an army of conglomerate henchmen and an extremely irritated Ah Quen for a spectacular blood, bullets n’ swords showdown...

Like The Transporter, which a greater number of an Occidental audience will have seen, So Close boasts a ‘plot’ that is merely a mechanism to move the characters from one deliriously filmed dust-up to the next. Dialogue too is not much more than serviceable and Ah Quen’s romantic sub-plot, to say the least, is a mawkish melodramatic point.

Such caveats aside, this is 110 minutes of pure unadulterated film fun. Director Cory Yuen makes no bones about what he wants the audience to see and, doubling as the action choreographer, he delivers it in spades. A delectable duo of Asian actresses as the central pairing? Check. A capable Kung Fu practitioner as the erstwhile antagonist? Gotcha. A 20 minute final fight sequence involving glass, guns, swords and bamboo sticks? You bet!

So Close
Shu Qi, as famous for her clothes falling off in front of grateful glamour photographers as she is for her film career, has a chance to illustrate that her elastic-limbed prowess can be employed to effective use. Zhao Wei is easily the best actress on show and proves that she’s more than just a pretty face by providing an essential emotional core to the action. Karen Mok outscores her co-stars in the Kung Fu but also infuses her cliched hard-bitten cop character with some oddly affecting touches.

Of course, as attractive as this troika may be (surely enough to cause palpitations in even the most cold-blooded male), they have to cut it in the frenetic fisticuffs and in this respect all three bring home the bacon. Under the tutelage of Cory Yuen, the action is jaw-droppingly intricate and endlessly inventive. Inside the confines of a lift, on the slippery floor of a sodden bathroom, in the concrete sprawl of a car park, you name it, every time Cory Yuen manages to produce something to surprise even the Hong Kong action veteran. Even the venerated Yasuaki Kurata manages to get in on the act in the standout sequence, battling Zhao Wei and Karen Mok who use any and all objects which come to hand.

Not widely seen outside Asia, So Close has been unfavourably compared with Charlie’s Angels. Three get up n’ go girls is just about all that Charlie’s Angels can offer in direct comparison to this movie for fortunately So Close foregoes the irritatingly loud ‘Girl Power’ schtick, woeful wirework, infuriatingly mindless editing and contractual cleavage shots that marred McG’s celluloid travesty and its inevitable sequel.

Presenting the movie at an anamorphically enhanced ratio of 1.85:1, this Korean Columbia Tri-Star effort really looks very good indeed. With a dearth of special features and just two audio tracks to occupy the DVD, the rest of the disc is devoted to displaying the image and it certainly shows.

So Close
Colours are vibrant and razor sharp (they need to be with the whiter than white-clad ‘Computer Angels’ running around a monolithic grey building for most of them film), with absolutely no sense of blooming. Contrast levels are spot on too, as evidenced by the number of sequences in which shards of white CG produced glass goes flying across the screen against a grey background.

Chugging along at a healthy old bitrate, this transfer maximises the look that Cory Yuen’s modest budget would allow and is easily as good, if not better, than many R1 or R2 Columbia discs.

Mercifully, given the predominance of white as a colour for background, foreground and wardrobe, Columbia had the foresight to provide subtitles in a nicely legible yellow typeface. Not only are these easy to read but they’re also reliably free from spelling and typographical errors. Not quite perfect then, but definitely a continuing improvement in subtitling in R3 releases.

As DTS is a common addition to many Korean releases, it’s a little surprising that no such track is available on this disc. No matter, however, for the two outstanding Dolby Digital 5.1 efforts reproduced here are more than worthy substitutes; channel separation during the car chase, swordplay and fist fights is exemplary with each kick and pistol shot generating a hefty thump from the subwoofer.

The effects track has been faithfully recreated precisely across both audio streams; the only difference between the Cantonese and Mandarin tracks, with dialogue is always crisp from the centre speaker, is that the nature of the dubbing is different. Karen Mok and the police force speak in their native Cantonese and are dubbed for the Mandarin track, vice versa for Zhao Wei and Shu Qi. The nature of the dubbing is actually very good and if the viewer is not familiar with how the players really sound then he/she should not really be aware of the looped dialogue.

So Close
However, on a personal note, I find that Karen Mok and, in particular, Zhao Wei have very distinctive vocal deliveries. Karen Mok in Mandarin sounds like the voice artist is a pretty good match but Zhao Wei’s delicate kewpie strains dubbed into Cantonese make her sound like an Oriental version of Mariella Frostrup. Of course, this would pass by many a viewer (after all, who watches these movies for the dialogue?), and some may prefer Zhao Wei’s husky Cantonese, yet I found myself switching between the two audio tracks depending on who was on screen at the given time.

Unfortunately, and somewhat unusually for a Korean release, there are slim pickings available on the special features slate as only Bonus Trailers are to be found here.

First up is the original Chinese trailer for So Close which highlights every key action scene and little else. Secondly, there’s a Charlie’s Angels – The Movie trailer that promotes all the wiggling and jiggling that you’ve come to expect from Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. Finally there’s an extremely early 2002 teaser trailer for Charlies’s Angels – Full Throttle that includes almost all the film footage shot at the time of the release of So Close; on the basis of this expect director McG to spend more time focusing on the principles trio’s naughty bits than in any attempt to tell a story.

Alas, that’s yer lot although the menus (in English) are well-designed and make option selection very simple indeed.

So Close
Definitely an experience in which you should leave your brain at the entrance, So Close is none the weaker for its gloriously gleeful approach to making you have a good time during your viewing experience and is a highly enjoyable alternative to more highbrow fayre. Shorn of extras but presented on a decidedly decent Columbia R3 disc, in his element, and eschewing plot complexity, Cory Yuen has fashioned an enormously entertaining slice of Hong Kong hokum that is deserving as an alternative to Friday night at the multiplex.