Only time enough to die.
The attention-deficit speed of pop culture has left the moniker “Generation X” along the cultural wayside with lingo like “def” and “radical.” If Gen-X Cops had been made in the United States, the title probably would have been rendered “Xtreme Cops,” because the movie’s attitude reflects that of the skateboard-wielding, Limp Bizkit-listening youths of today. Yet more evidence that MTV is some sort of Orwellian social programming device.
The filmmaking of Japan and Hong Kong — in particular, their martial arts movies — grew out of putting their own cultural spin on the rock-em sock-em action movies of Hollywood. Largely due to the work of Akira Kurosawa, Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan, an appreciation of their brand of action film has come to the United States. (I don’t want to discount anyone, but in my opinion the popularity of martial arts movies in the United are due to that triumvirate. Personally, I’m also very partial to Jet Li and John Woo.) Gen-X Cops is a synthesis of the best of what the East and the West has to offer — from our side of the Pacific, big-budget special effects, explosions, car chases, and gunfights; from the other side, well-choreographed martial arts and authentic stunts.
Gen-X Cops wastes little time before dropping the audience headlong into the story. Arms smuggler Dinosaur (Lam Ka Tung) is in a squeeze. The police want him for his involvement in smuggling a fuel used to make high explosives, recently seized by the government. Japanese yakuza kingpin Akatora wants him because he thinks Dinosaur took his merchandise. And, his brother Daniel (Daniel Wu, who incidentally graduated from a school I attended, the University of Oregon) hates him more than Dinosaur hates him. All this angst culminates in a daring (and spectacular) nighttime attack on Dinosaur’s limousine, at the end of which Daniel caps his brother.
The police bring Daniel in for questioning, but are unable to pin anything on him. Besides, they think him to be a rather insignificant player in their attempt to bring down Akatora. So, the duty of tailing Daniel is given to Inspector Chan (Eric Tsang, who has extensive credits not just as an actor, but as a screenwriter and director), who has a history of mental problems (but to set a good example to the people, the police department does not fire him). Because of the circles the young Daniel runs in, Chan determines that the best way to research the case is to recruit police cadets. However, the cadets look too much like cops for Chan’s liking, until he runs into three cadets who are in the process of being expelled: Jack (Nicholas Tse), Match (Stephen Fung), and Alien (Sam Lee, who with his Oriental features and pointy chin looks uncannily like an escapee from Area 51). The boys are the embodiment of the devil-may-care “Generation X” spirit. Their decisions to enter the police were motivated by little more than personal gain (as explained in a deleted scene, but more on those later). The trio is later joined by “Y2K” (Grace Ip — she’s buggy), the sister of a slain undercover cop.
While working undercover to gather evidence against Daniel, the trio is captured by Daniel and his goons. To prevent blowing their cover, they agree to do some of Daniel’s dirty work, namely killing Akatora. However, that mission proves to be a failure, thanks to the megamaniacal work of a rival police inspector. The Gen-X cops go into hiding with Daniel, and further plan how to bring down Akatora and Daniel while saving their own lives.
The movie is packed with amazing stunts…not quite the same as some performed by Jackie Chan in many of his films, but spectacular nonetheless. There are two skydiving scenes: one a fairly typical aerial formation, the other a daring escape from a high-rise in the middle of Hong Kong. The skydiving scenes were among the few scenes in which doubles performed the action. Other shots include an escape from an exploding factory, a boat blowing up in midair, and a burning swimming pool. Oh, and of course the inhuman leaps while still gunning down the enemies that you’ll recognize from any John Woo movie. Gen-X Cops is not exclusively a martial arts movie, though there are some excellent fight scenes.
American producers looking to import Hong Kong action flicks, take note: Gen-X Cops is the best example of how to bring these movies to the American market. Fans couldn’t care less for the Top-40 rap and hip-hop soundtracks you like to pump into these movies. We don’t want English dubs at the expense of the original language tracks. We want the movies uncut and unedited, in their original glory. That’s what you get here. The movie is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic. Often, Hong Kong films look grainier and more washed out than their Hollywood counterparts. Not here. Its crispness and clarity almost belies its origins. The picture has a bare minimum of grain. Blacks are not washed out and flesh tones are natural, but the picture can be oversaturated at times (though I think that is a stylistic choice). No pixelization is evident, and there is a minimal amount of edge enhancement. Four audio tracks are included: Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo tracks in both in the original Cantonese and an English dub. The 5.1 track is active, making extensive use of the surrounds and LFE. My only complaint is that the bullet sound effects sound fake. Considering that I’ve been around guns a total of maybe two hours in my twenty-five year life, I’m using movies as my yardstick. Compared to other movie gunshots, they sound like firecrackers. The English dub sounds, well, like a dub. Even if I can’t understand a word of Cantonese, it’s still preferable over bad ADR. Subtitles are provided in English and French.
The disc is packed with extras. For starters, there’s a 38-minute making-of documentary. It’s presented in Cantonese with burned-in subtitles. It is filled with interviews with the production staff and cast and behind-the-scenes footage of the actors risking life and limb, and it is quite entertaining. Two theatrical trailers are included, one for Gen-X Cops and one for Jackie Chan’s Who Am I. The Gen-X Cops trailer is highly kinetic. It’s the kind of trailer that is enough to sell audiences on a movie…it makes me wonder why Columbia chose not to release the movie theatrically in the United States rather than sending it directly to video, considering the popularity of The Matrix and Romeo Must Die. Last but certainly not least, there is close to an hour of deleted scenes. The scenes are almost exclusively character development pieces, and would seem a bit cerebral in the middle of an action movie. Still, if you like the story and the characters (and I can’t see why you wouldn’t), they are well worth watching for their insights.
My hat is definitely off to Columbia for their DVD presentation of Gen-X Cops, but I take umbrage to the way they’ve marketed it. Their entire marketing campaign has hinged on one little fact: one of the executive producers was a guy named Jackie Chan. Yes, that Jackie Chan. The funny thing is, it feels nothing like a Jackie Chan movie. It’s far more realistic and brutal, containing none of the Buster Keaton-inspired physical comedy of Chan’s films. In typical Hollywood fashion, it misrepresents the movie in a way that might prove to be a detriment.
I feel the need to confess that my plot synopsis may be a little off. It can be a little hard to keep track of characters, particularly those who are not the main characters, in a story that is told in a foreign tongue. I left out quite a bit, but I hope it only whet your appetite for the rest of the film.
Since Gen-X Cops was not released theatrically in the United States, it’s not a movie that most buyers are going to recognize while perusing the DVD racks. Its press is only now being generated by reviews such as this one. Reviews of Gen-X Cops at other DVD sites have been rather negative, which is unfortunate. I was wholly and completely entertained by the movie, and the DVD presentation far exceeded my expectations. If you enjoy martial arts movies or even just straight action, I would heartily recommend it — it kicks ass.
I would further recommend that you watch the movie with the Cantonese track. The characters slip back and forth between Cantonese and English. At times, the dialogue hinges on which language they were speaking in. It doesn’t make any sense when someone yells, “Stop speaking f***ing English!” when everything is spoken in English.