Fatal Contact

Thursday 19th December 2013

Fatal Contact turned out to be an unexpected gem; an unpredictable and oddly funny martial arts film about a promising martial artist who gets drawn into the dangerous world of underground fighting. It’s a story that’s been told many times already, from Channing Tatum in the mediocre Fighting to Michael Jai White in Blood and Bone. However, this time around the story’s given an unexpected twist; our hero Kong is tricked into fighting by a money-hungry gold-digger. Kong meets Tin at the theatre where he performs as an acrobat in the Chinese opera. Once Tin finds out that her new friend is a talented fighter with a chance to join the National Kung Fu Team, she uses her womanly wiles to talk him into fighting in an underground ring run by a Triad gang. As you’d expect Kong predictably becomes the gang’s golden boy, winning his first few fights with very little difficulty.

Tin pushes Kong to take more dangerous fights for higher stakes and he is soon making big bank. He also gets a new trainer, a squatter called The Captain who is extremely careful with his money and openly tries to swindle Kong at every opportunity. The two men develop a strange sort of friendship in which one depends financially on the other but both of them understand the situation and are okay with it. In spite of being a beast in the ring, Kong is a good-natured and generous man who doesn’t seem all that interested in money.

Kong’s problems begin when all the gamblers start betting on him to win and his bosses decide to make money by making him throw his next fight. This development isn’t particularly original either; we’ve all seen films in which fighters are forced into taking a dive; they are typically defiant and find a way to win the fight anyway. But when the gangsters kidnap Tin and threaten to do unspeakable things to her, Kong really does throw the fight in incredibly self-destructive fashion. What he doesn’t know is that Tin has been using him all along; she’s only interested in the money she stands to gain by association. Writer and Director Dennis Law gives us an insight to Tin’s intentions through a series of scenes in which she advises her prostitute friend Chiuchi to escape her violent pimp by wooing a rich, old gangster who can take care of her. Chuichi follows Tin’s questionable advice and ends up a gangster’s moll. Somehow Chuichi is still not happy… it seems giving another person power over every aspect of your life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be (what a shock). But Tin has an answer for everything; instead of telling Chuichi to get a job and find her independence, Tin suggests she try harder in bed and make sure her gangster companion doesn’t get bored.

Tin is not the type to dispense advice she isn’t willing to follow herself. She makes sure that Kong is under her control and that she stands to gain as much as possible from their arrangement. But as the film nears its conclusion we are given glimpses of reluctant affection; our cynical gold-digger can’t help falling for the charming but dim-witted Kong. The finale is a real surprise, I don’t want to say too much but Tin and Kong both realise the truth of their relationship and their subsequent psychological unraveling is powerful. The light-hearted tone takes a much darker turn with a decidedly tragic final scene.

Fatal Contact is a martial arts film at heart and star Jacky Wu doesn’t disappoint in that department. He combines graceful and showy elements of Kung Fu with more brutal Muay Thai to make the fight scenes highly entertaining. There’s no shortage of bloodshed as Kong meets various challengers who aren’t above sneaking weapons into the ring. There are moments of flashy brilliance as well, as in one street fight in which Kong takes down three men with one spectacular aerial kick.

The film has some great comic relief, mostly courtesy of The Captain played by Ronald Cheng. The Captain has moved to Hong Kong from mainland China and is desperately trying to save enough money to return home and open a dim sum shop for his mother. His tight-fisted behaviour gets a lot of laughs and there is some great slapstick as he trains Kong to be more ruthless in his fighting. Kenneth Lo provides a lot of amusement as well, although not through his acting. Lo’s gangster Chan Sun has one of the most incredible selections of suits I’ve ever witnessed. Among the highlights of his collection are a two-tone purple and blue snakeskin suit and a leopard-skin jacket. All of his suits are complemented by the particularly brave fashion choice of a black cowboy hat adorned with multi-coloured feathers. He takes a close second in the ‘best dressed gangster of all time’ award behind Kakihara in Ichi The Killer.

Overall, Fatal Contact is a highly enjoyable fight film that’s full of surprises. It reminded me of recent Thai action films like Born to Fight and Bangkok Knockout. It’s good to see that Hong Kong filmmakers aren’t surrendering their dominance of the martial arts genre to Thailand and Indonesia without a fight. I recently saw Dennis Law’s follow-up film to Fatal Contact, the similarly titled Fatal Move, starring Sammo Hung. The second film shows that Law is honing his skills as a writer-director and will no doubt be one of the leading action filmmakers in years to come.

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