So Close by Corey Yuen (Review)

I wish I could call this movie a guilty pleasure.
So Close

On paper, So Close seems like the perfect movie. Take three attractive Asian ladies (Shu Qi, whose lips should be banned by the Geneva Convention; the ultra-crushworthy Zhao Wei; and Karen Mok, one of Hong Kong’s more controversial entertainers) and their bare midriffs, give them with some high-tech spy gizmos, throw in plenty of high-kicking martials arts action and gunplay, and toss in a little romance. And, for those into that sort of thing, throw in some minor lesbian action for good measure. Oh yeah, and the most preposterous use of the Carpenters’ music in a movie… ever.

All in all, So Close sounds like the sort of cheesecake movie that Hong Kong action cinema is so adept at producing (i.e. Downtown Torpedoes, Tokyo Raiders). And it certainly tries its darndest to exceed its audience’s expectations in every way possible. But even those expecting pure eye candy and cinematic fluff might find So Close less than filling.

Qi and Wei play Lynn and Sue, two sisters who, in addition to gallivanting about town and buying cake in their supermodel outfits, also happen to be a topnotch assassin team. Sue is the deadly marksman, whereas Lynn is an expert hacker who serves as her eyes and ears. Backing them up is the Deus Ex Machina, err, I mean World Panorama, a satellite surveillance unit created by their father that allows them to hack into any closed circuit TV system in the world and spy on anyone they wish. (Yes, that sound you just heard was Donald Rumsfeld having an orgasm.)

Having completed their latest job — the assassination of a wealthy CEO named Chow Lui — the two sisters are ready to get on with their next assignment… or try to out-cute each other, whichever comes first. However, life as an assassin isn’t always what popcorn Hong Kong action movies makes it out to be, and the sisters soon find their lives getting more complicated.

The person who ordered the hit on Lui turns out to be his brother Nunn, who had his brother offed in a powerplay to take over the company (and his brother’s wife). Now one understandably can’t afford to leave any loose ends after something like that, so Nunn sends his own hitman after the sisters. At the same time, Lynn runs an old beau named Yan, which stirs up long-forgotten feelings (and gives the two plenty of chances to exchange meaningful looks over really cheesy music). And finally, an unorthodox detective named Hong (Mok) starts sniffing around the case, completing our movie’s babe triumvirate.

When a new assignment appears, Lynn, looking as tortured as Shu Qi can get (which means plenty of furrowed eyebrows and oh-so-pouty lips), decides to quit her life as an assassin. She’s tired of the bloodshed and wants to settle down with Yan and get married. Suu, who has grown tired of always being in her big sister’s shadow, sees this as a perfect chance to strike out on her own.

However, Sue finds herself in over her head when Nunn’s assassins begin closing in on the sisters. Her plans all backfire and once again, it’s Lynn to the rescue. Unfortunately, Lynn is gunned down while trying to help Sue escape from the clutches of Hong, who is hot on the sisters’ trail. But because Nunn is an evil bastard who has grown tired of Hong’s meddling investigations into his brother’s death, he implicates the hotshot detective in Lynn’s death. Which means that our two remaining heroines must band together, despite being on opposite sides of the law, take down Nunn, and tease any males in the audience with homoerotic undertones of their burgeoning relationship.

There’s only a handful of reasons why anyone, males especially, would want to watch this movie. And the top three would be Shu Qi, Zhao Wei, and Karen Mok. I suppose if you just want an excuse to stare at those three ladies for 90 minutes or so, you probably stopped reading this review long ago. But for the rest of us, it’s just not worth it… trust me. Qi and Wei are fine in their roles… though they’re hardly believable as sisters. Most of their sisterly interaction seems to be, once again, aiming at slightly more prurient interests (in other words, ​“fan service”).

In one scene, we get to enjoy watching Lynn taking a nice, luxurious bubble bath, with the camera paying especially close attention to Qi’s legs (which, speaking as a heterosexual male, are absolutely gorgeous). Cut to Sue, who has a real thing for camcorders, sneaking up on Lynn hoping to get a few choice shots of her big sis in the buff (again, for no other reason than the fact that the screenwriter, Jeff Lau, know the audience). A desperate struggle ensues as the two nubile sisters wrestle about, with Sue trying desperately to rid Lynn of her bothersome towel before falling into the tub.

Wait a second… I think I just described one of the greatest scenes in film history.

There is one scene between the sisters that is actually quite affecting. Because Sue can’t bury Lynn’s body for fear of being discovered, she videotapes her sister’s corpse and buries the camcorder — only to come across an apology Lynn recorded before she died. It’s a surprisingly moving scene made all the moreso because of Wei’s acting. While Wei is best known for her bubbly cuteness — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as anyone who has seen Chinese Odyssey 2002 will gladly attest to — one gets the notion that there might be a bit more to her than that. Hopefully, her role in the upcoming Warriors of Heaven and Earth will find her tackling a deeper, more serious role.

But aside from that one scene, So Close reaches new heights, or lows, of fluff and interminability, and this can best be seen in Karen Mok’s performance as Hong. Mok tries her hardest to make Hong as hard as nails — and it’s probably one of the most unintentionally forced and hilarious performances I’ve ever seen. Hong is the sort of no-nonsense, ​“take no prisoners” gal that practically screams ​“butch” and ​“stereotype” for the entire world to hear.

She rarely does any real detective work aside from flagrantly violating protocol and telling her colleagues how ineffective they are. Rather, she seems to prefer smoking cigarillos with gusto (nice phallic symbol there), asking her effeminate partner about the first time he masturbated, and pulling clues out of thin air. And don’t get me started on the little lesbian thing between her and Sue, which is nowhere near as sizzling as any of the movie’s marketing people might lead you to believe.

Hot actresses aside, the only other reason I can think of for anyone to be remotely interested in So Close would be the action. After all, the movie is directed by Corey Yuen, who has given us such crazy, wire fu-filled gems as Fong Sai-Yuk, My Father Is a Hero, and New Legend of Shaolin. And bless him, Yuen tries his hardest to deliver on the movie’s promise.

So Close sure has lots of action and gunplay. But it’s either so preposterous (it’s almost painful to watch Lynn, who looks like she stepped out of a L’Oreal ad, take out baddies with the help of her stilleto heels and the strains of “(They Long To Be) Close to You”), derivative (seeing the movie rip off The Matrix, itself heavily inspired by HK cinema, makes one wonder if any vitality exists in the HK industry), or just plain lame to really be enjoyable. Even watching Hong and Lynn duke it out while tearing off each other’s clothes fails to elicit any real response, thanks to the gratuitous wirework and obvious choreography.

The only fight of any real interest is the final battle, where Sue and Hong duke it out with the head of Nunn’s goons, played by the incredible Yasuaki Kurata (who tore it up as the uncle of Jet Li’s Japanese girlfriend in Fist of Legend). Of course, being a bad guy, he has to lose, but it’s great seeing our heroines face a real challenge, rather than the clueless cannon fodder they’ve dealt with up until now.

Yeah, I know, I know. This all sounds like I was asking far too much from the movie. I should really know better, having watched HK cinema for years and being well-acquainted with its predilection for box office fluff. But I assure you, my expectations going into So Close were already riding pretty low (we’re talking The Big Hit territory here). But even then, considering that everything in So Close — acting, action, plot, drama, music (I’ll never be able to listen to The Carpenters the same way ever again) — aims for the absolute lowest of common denominators (that being horny male moviegoers), it’s amazing that it fails to reach even it’s own extremely lowered goals.

I wish I could call this movie a guilty pleasure, one of those movies that you gleefully defend even as your friends groan at the mere mention of it. To their credit, the filmmakers realize their movie can’t exist as anything else. But they try so hard to make it the perfect ​“guilty pleasure” movie, giving the target audience everything they could possibly want — pretty girls with big guns, cute lesbians, lots of hot bare midriff action, big explosions, very little substance — that it just becomes ingratiating and annoying… and rarely anywhere close to being enjoyable.

Read more reviews of Corey Yuen.