A man lies dead on the floor of a restaurant, the victim of a nearby sniper who has yet to reveal his location. The rest of the men in the room cower in fear. They do not know who is attacking them, but the timing is a little too convenient to be mere coincidence. This does not bode well for undercover cop Chen Zilong (Donnie Yen) who is the only outsider inside the restaurant filled with gang members.
Quickly becoming the prime suspect in the eyes of the thirty or so men in the room, Chen knows his options are limited. He can either fight his way out of the building or explain his innocence through discourse…and none of the men are in the mood for talking.
Those who have seen Ip Man, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, or any other action film starring Donnie Yen will know what comes next. In fact, the foot and fist melees are what will bring most to Special ID in the first place. Whether he is throwing men out windows or using their battered bodies as stools for a mid-fight breather, Yen is in fine form. Frankly, it looks like he is having a ball.
This is essential since lord knows no one is going to see this film for its plot.
Following the well travelled path of other Hong Kong action films, Special ID tells the story of Chen who is a man so deep undercover that he is beginning to lose his edge. Longing to be a regular cop again, and with a gang turf war looming, Chen finds his life in danger when his triad boss Xiong (Collin Chou) decides it is time to weed out every undercover cop that may be in his organization. In an attempt to prove his worth to Xiong, and more importantly maintain his cover, Chen agrees to take an assignment in Nanhai City.
Chen is tasked with tracking a former protégé, Sunny (Andy On), who is making a name for himself in the criminal world by killing rival gang leaders. While in Nanhai City he must also deal with a new partner, Fang Jing (Jing Tian), whose by the book approach conflicts with Chen’s streetwise ways. Of course, despite their differences the pair will need to rely on each other if they want to have any chance of both bringing Sunny down and protecting Chen’s secret identity.
While it has been a long road to reaching mainstream notice, having frequently been overshadowed by other martial artists especially in the North American eye, Yen is finally enjoying success. There is a fluid ease to both his fighting style and his overall charisma. This not only helps to sell the moments of humour in the film, but also the will they won’t they relationship that Chan has with Fang Jing.
Although the film never goes deeper than toying with the idea of a possible romantic relationship, the real surprise of the film is Jing Tian. Despite her diminutive and unassuming stature, Tian is more than capable of handling her own. Director Clarence Fok Yiu-leung shows so much faith in Tain that he makes her the centerpiece of a thrilling car chase sequence in the latter half of the film.
Despite its heart-pumping action, the film stumbles whenever it tries to add depth. The soft-focused melodrama that comes with Chen’s need to both sort out his life and protect his family slows the film to a crawl at times. These moments also break up the strong visual look of the film. Seriously, this is one good looking film when not saturated by softer tones. Clarence Fok Yiu-leung and team fail to realize that melodrama is the last thing people want from this type of story. Instead of trying to mimic the depth of Infernal Affairs, or The Departed for those who only saw Scorsese’s remake, they should have kept the focus on the film’s greatest strength… its action.
Special ID may not bring anything new to the table from a plot perspective, however the action more than makes up for its shortcomings. If you are looking for a fun night of action, then consider giving this film a spin.