Sunday, June 6, 2021

Undercover Punch & Gun (2021)

Directors: Lui Koon Nam, Frankie Tam

Notable Cast: Philip Ng, Andy On, Van Ness Wu, Chi Shuai, Joyce Feng, Aaron Mustapha Aziz


One of the things that growing up with Hong Kong cinema has allowed me to be comfortable with is tonal whiplash. Nobody does imperfect tonal shifts to perfection like Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong. As time has gone on, the industry has certainly tried to make their material a bit more consumable for larger audiences and that means many films have pulled back a bit from the sheer insanity of the fast tone slides. I should have been prepared when Undercover Punch & Gun decided to take a potentially gritty undercover cop action flick and inject some wild quirks and humor into it. Does it work all the time? Absolutely not, but there is this kind of postmodern angle to its 80s approach that does have its charms. This allows Undercover Punch & Gun to be oddly charming as it delivers on its action through the dual efforts of its big-name cast. Even if the film feels a bit uneven and hollow as a whole. 


Perhaps expectations for a film titled Undercover Punch & Gun should have been a bit more tempered. It’s quite the silly title for quite the silly film. Yet, the combination of Philip Ng and Andy On as two undercover cops pitted against one another when they rise through the ranks of two different criminal organizations entices to no end. Both are charismatic leads and both can handle their own when it comes to action sequences. Quite frankly, Undercover Punch & Gun is worth watching for martial arts fans just to see the two juggernauts of modern action cinema square off in the final act.


Naturally, it’s the action that makes the film worth seeing. Philip Ng serves as the film’s action director and he gets to strut his stuff with many of the fight scenes. It’s not the sharpest in the choreography or direction, but the action is plentiful and well-paced, as to be expected. There’s a multitude of sequences of hand-to-hand combat, but also enough gunfights, knife fights, and an attempted car escape will satiate most action junkies. Philip Ng gets to showcase some of his acrobatics and fun skills in these moments, but a surprising turn from Van Ness Wu as his comedic sidekick tends to steal many of the action moments. Although the previously mentioned car chase is not nearly as high octane as one might expect, his knife fight in the finale might end up being one of the best moments in the film. 


Unfortunately, the film’s script and direction tend to fail the charm of its cast and promise of its baseline premise. For a film that has this much comedy in its mixture of cop drama and martial arts action, the direction and pace have to match the energy on screen and Undercover Punch & Gun never finds that balance. The comedic beats often fall a bit flat, particularly compared to the action, and the drama never finds that rhythm between the other two tonal choices. It’s the directorial debut of Lui Koon Nam and Frankie Tam, who also wrote the film and have written a ton of other very popular Chinese films like The Four Trilogy, Legend of the Fist, and Wild City (and separately have written films like Chasing the Dragon and God of War,) so there’s definitely some ‘first time’ growing pains that can be felt throughout. 


Undercover Punch & Gun is entertaining to a certain degree if a viewer is willing to handle the quirkiness of its odd choices in what could have been a solid action crime caper. Just the choice in music indicates the strangeness that this film slathers into the usual HK cop flick. The two leads are reliable as always in their roles, even if the script thinly sets up their characters and fated clash. Undercover Punch & Gun mostly survives its writing and ‘first time director’ speed bumps, but it’s not the best from any of the creative elements behind it. It’s simply a breezy way to kick 90 minutes with its attempts to recapture the action-comedy of the HK 1980s. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

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