Wednesday, July 29, 2009

COWEB: Amateurish Martial Arts Actioner

COWEB (martial arts drama)
Cast: Jiang Lu Xia, Kane Kosugi, Mike Moller, Sam Lee and Siu Fai Cheung
Director: Xin Xin Xiong
Time: 100 mins
Rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

Kane Kosugi and Jiang Lu Xia play top opponents in COWEB

PREAMBLE: To really enjoy most Hong Kong martial arts movies, one would need to leave one's brains at the door. For Coweb (or 'Zhang Wu Shuang'), however, I wouldn't even recommend going through the door. This effort, directed by newcomer Xin Xin Xiong takes movie-making down many notches beyond amateur - nothing in the movie makes any sense at all.

THE SKINNY: Nie Yiyi (Jiang Lu Xia) is a skilled martial arts exponent working as a security guard after her father's death. A childhood friend, Zhong Tien (Sam Lee), who works as a personal assistant to billionaire Mr He (Eddie Cheung), persuades Yiyi to become a bodyguard to Mr He's wife. Reluctantly Yiyi accepts and she takes her job very seriously.

When both her bosses are kidnapped by a gang of thugs at a restaurant, Yiyi blames herself for it and goes all out to trace the culprits. She is dissuaded from contacting the police by Zhong Tien - and the two follow dubious leads that involve kungfu duels at a disco, on top of bamboo scaffoldings, alleyways and bridges. Yiyi soon discovers that all her fights are being recorded on video by a gambling syndicate and streamed over the Internet for people to bet on. And yes, Coweb alludes to Combat Web!

HITS & MISSES: There are very few hits but a whole lot of misses. For one, director Xiong mistakes kungfu talent for acting talent and casts newcomer Jiang Lu Xia in such a demanding role. Going through the paces with just one or two expressions (like looking angry and angrier), she fails miserably of course. Jiang's claim to fame was showing off her martial arts skills on the Internet and competing on Jackie Chan's "The Disciple" TV series (a hunt for the next big Hong Kong kungfu star). She can fight but she can't act to save her life.

Next, the dialogue is appalling and you just can't believe the moronic stuff that the director allows to get into the movie. Xiong has one of the baddies go through a door cartoon-style with a cut-out hole; he has Jiang playing a bodyguard without any firearms or contact with the authorities; he portrays Yiyi as an utter idiot believing and following ridiculous leads and clues when the obvious could be seen a mile away; and no attempt is made to explain how the gambling scam works.

However, the most unforgivable flaw is the badly filmed martial arts action. Ever since Raging Bull in 1980, directors and cinematographers have learnt to dramatise the scenes with close-up and slow-motion shots, not to mention CGI-enhanced views to excite our senses. The action here is repetitive and boring, except for a brawl at the bamboo scaffoldings. It is obvious Xiong tries to imitate Jackie Chan's comic kungfu tricks but again, he fails miserably due to poor timing. Jiang is not good enough to carry the movie and Xiong has no idea how to direct a modern martial arts actioner.

THE LOWDOWN: After the initial curiosity over Jiang Lu Xia, this one will probably gather cobwebs at DVD stores.


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