Viral Factor, The (2012)
Cast: Jay Chou, Nicholas Tse, Lin Peng
Plot: Jon, a righteous IDC agent who becomes conflicted when circumstances plunge him into the web of organized crime. His estranged brother Yang is part of that web but is betrayed when her young daughter is kidnapped.
Genre: Action / Drama
Rating: PG13 for violence.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Hong Kong director Dante Lam ushers in the Chinese New Year with an action film that will please fans of the genre. The action maestro, whose film credits read Beast Cops (1998), The Beast Stalker (2008), and The Stool Pigeon (2010), delivers a spectacular movie that pits stars Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse against and for each other.
Lam's latest outing, The Viral Factor, is an assured piece of filmmaking that combines his flair for directing action with a fatalistic human story that beneath all the loud explosions and gunfights captures the essence of the lives of its two leads.
Chou plays Jon, a righteous IDC agent who becomes conflicted when circumstances plunge him into the web of organized crime. His estranged brother Yang (Tse) is part of that web but is betrayed when her young daughter is kidnapped. As the authorities go after Yang, Jon is sucked into the world of immorality and is torn between doing what he thinks is right or what he feels is right. Stakes are raised when Jon discovers that the criminals are planning to infect the world with a new, deadly virus, of which its vaccine is solely controlled by them.
The Viral Factor joins the bandwagon of globetrotting action films such as Paul Greengrass' The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), only now it is purely an Asian blockbuster.
Shot in locations as diverse as Jordan, China, and Malaysia, Lam's film features a strong backdrop of changing scenery as the action takes place in its foreground. There are some astonishing scenes including a helicopter chase right in the heart of the city of Kuala Lumpur. From a Singaporean perspective, it feels surreal to see intense action set-pieces unfold in a neighboring, and particularly conservative country.
Lam's film grips you from the start with an outstanding prologue action sequence involving an ambush and a street gunfight that reminds somewhat of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down (2001). The use of quick cuts and an exceptionally mobile camera allows the viewer to be immersed in the violence and chaos.
Although Chou appears ineffective in some of the more emotional scenes, he has to be respected for his bravery to tackle his own stunts. Tse is the better actor, but both show good chemistry with each other. In this thrill-a-minute film, it is pleasantly surprising to see some involving back story drama that not only helps to build character development, but also serves as motivation for the action.
Down to its very core, The Viral Factor is a story about reconciliation, forgiveness, and familial love. In a nutshell, it is an excellent action film, and it is not afraid to put foot to pedal all the way. Lam is truly a contemporary Asian master of this crowd-pleasing genre.
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