Extraordinary Mission Review
Extraordinary Mission (2017) Film Review from the 16th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, a movie directed by Alan Mack & Anthony Pun, starring Xuan Huang, Yihong Duan, Feng Zu, Yueting Lang, Jiadong Xing, Yanhui Wang, and Yaoching Wang.
A mid-level drug dealer, named Lin Kai (Xuan Huang), was very good at his job. He had to be, because he was an even better undercover cop. When being good at his cover job brought him to an honest drug deal, busted by a corrupt police official, Lin’s mission was taken to a whole other level.
The key to this new level came courtesy of his introduction to Dongfang (Yaoching Wang). In the heat of some fairly impressive action, Lin opts to help Dongfang, in a snap-decision that seemed likely to get him to the Cartel’s source, and in accordance to his personal commitment to his mission.
Part of that commitment involved a little Scorpion & the Frog action. The Russian Roulette, at the other end of the crossing, demonstrated why ferrying scorpions is generally a bad idea; but I found it odd that no one found Lin saving Dongfang to be relevant.
Of course, the first impression left of Dongfang’s father – a man with the title of Eagle (Yihong Duan) – didn’t paint a very sentimental family portrait. In fact, it seems this ‘father’ was in the business of children as a mass resource; so his ‘customizing’ Lin, as a potential asset, fit in with his role as the the Kingpin Heavy. His character had caution, prep, and ruthlessness to spare; but the script did not allow for broader motivation. There was an intense personal motivation – regarding a specific event, and a specific vendetta – that just happened to intersect with Lin’s original mission; but such things really don’t just happen.
Lin’s motivation, on the other hand, was made quite clear, early on. This would factor into his having to deal with an Eagle insurance measure, and provide a subtle crossing with Eagle’s other ‘family’ asset, Qingshui (Yueting Lang); but the initial drive, that Xuan Huang brought to the Lin character began to seem more like a one-note fixation, than determination.
Lin was a Super Cop – fine, Asian cinema is full of those – but his greatest asset wasn’t his toughness or skill. Lin fought smart, thought on his feet, and knew how to improvise. That got him to the Golden Triangle, and took his mission to the next level; but Eagle’s insurance policy left him handicapped in the area that counted most, making the next level considerably more challenging than what had come before.
For his part, Yihong Duan gave the Eagle something of a Terrence Howard quality. A certain twinkle, to a penetrating stare, that can go in any direction. This gave Eagle a degree of volatile unpredictability, that served the undercover tension well; but even that performance would become subject to a certain degree of blinders-on plot developments.
The final act added some last minute layers to the story, as Lin’s handlers – on both sides of the mission – had personal motivations of their own brought forward. I appreciated that they were given more to do, than just stand by, or look on, and this did compliment some of their earlier scenes; but it did seem a little tacked on, given the late entry to the linear plot.
The climax to that plot, however, required quite a bit of suspension of disbelief. Lin was restored to Super Cop status in short order, and little things (like falling a few stories, stabbings, shootings, high speed crashes, or a decade of torture) didn’t seem to slow down any of the participants, one bit. It was a body count exercise, plain & simple; so marksmanship, use of terrain, etc., were all in service to that end.
Frankly, the climax ruined everything this film had managed to accomplish, regarding suspense build-up, character depth, or plot intrigue. Die-hard action fans might appreciate what came next (there was even a slo-mo shooting leap shot in it – just for you lot), but it made the rest of the film’s set-up seem like an excuse for the action, rather than a servicing to some kind of satisfactory resolution of plot & character threads.
The whole thing just skipped a level of John Woo, or two, and headed straight to the Michael Bey. Not enough explosions, model casting, or slo-mo revolving shots, but the insult wasn’t meant as a precision weapon.
Extraordinary Mission might better serve as a recruitment film, than a crime drama narrative. All of its plot intrigues merely served to hype the point where the mission goes from playing it cool, to weapons hot; all of its character nuances – particularly the ones tacked on late – ultimately boiling down to target fixation.
The real problem, here, is that I was left uncertain whether I was fooled into taking the film’s early subtleties seriously, or if those earlier acts were simply betrayed by a slapped on, market driven ending.
Not a pair of conclusions any self-respecting production should want its audience to choose from; but here we are.
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