Hong Kong, 1995, Wong Jing/Wai-Lun Lam

One of the things I love about Hong Kong action movies is that they never shy away from depicting massive civilian casualties. And not only that, they are usually quite blase about it too. High Risk is one such movie. It will go from one minute showing several innocent people being gunned down in cold blood, to a Benny Hill-esque fast motion sight gag. You never really know which way this one is going to go. In fact, High Risk opens with a bus full of school children being blown up. A pretty jarring opening for a movie that is largely a comedy, but hardly a big surprise for anyone who knows the work of co-director and co-writer Wong Jing.

Wong Jing is well known for his everything but the kitchen sink approach to filmmaking and High Risk is no exception. Gore, Kung Fu, bad comedy and frantic editing make this a schizophrenic experience to say the least, though unlike other films bearing Wong Jing’s brand of shame, this one actually works. I think High Risk is more fun than similar HK action comedies because more emphasis is placed on the action than the comedy, and the bad comedy sketches don’t last for particularly long like they do in some of Jing’s other movies.

The whole thing plays out as an ultra violent farce, with Jet Li in the lead role as Kit Li. Kit is the body guard to Frankie (played by Jacky Cheung), a kung fu star who claims to do all his own stunts but actually has Kit do them, as he is more of a bumbling, alcoholic, womanizing buffoon than the martial artist he is supposed to be. Frankie ends up stuck in a skyscraper full of bad guys trying to pull a jewel heist and Kit is required to come to the rescue. Clearly the character of Frankie is based on Jackie Chan as some sort of misguided attempt at a scathing criticism or parody of Chan by Jing. It is no revelation to most HK movie fans that there is little love lost between Chan and Jing after their working together on City Hunter. Chan has publicly disowned the film and Jing has, well, I guess you could say he made High Risk as his rebuttal.

Throughout the film we witness Frankie being beaten, humiliated, acting cowardly and behaving in a cartoonishly undignified manner to say the least. One of the most bizarre moments of the movie involves a scene with Frankie going to the toilet to urinate and a cut to a close up shot of a small child’s penis as he pees, before there is a reveal to show Frankie pissing at the urinals alongside a small child. Maybe there was something lost in translation (which could easily be true because the subs in the version I watched were beyond lousy) but I do believe that this is a gag about the character of Frankie and, I guess by transitive property, Jackie Chan having an exceptionally small penis. Way harsh, Wong Jing. Apparently Jet Li has apologised to Chan for being involved in this movie.

This movie not only defies logic, it actively insults it, which gives it much of its charm. This will probably drive the plot-hole pointers and realism nazis out there nuts, but screw those guys, nobody likes watching movies with a know-it-all windbag anyway. Such scenes that defy logic are one where the villains throw piles of snakes at one of characters before locking her in a room with them. Where did they get all the snakes!? Did someone think to bring snakes with them when they decided to pull a tower heist? Why? But it’s a cool scene so who cares. Another features Jet Li driving a car into an elevator and then taking that elevator to the penthouse, where he uses the car to run down a few henchmen. Awesome scene, but try not to think about it too much. You may get a headache. I can only imagine those guys, you know the ones who complain because the guns never run out of bullets in action movies, or the tanks in certain war films are anachronistic for whatever reason, I can totally picture those guys watching a movie like High Risk and having their teeth start falling out from grinding them from all the stress of watching a movie that makes very little logical sense.

High Risk is a ton of fun and the action really doesn’t let up. If you are skint, you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube thanks to someone who kindly uploaded it. Here is the link to the first part: