*/**** Image A Sound A-
starring Shu Qi, Vicki Zhao, Karen Mok, Song Seung Hun
screenplay by Jeff Lau
directed by Corey Yuen
by Walter Chaw Frankly, So Close could suck a tennis ball through a keyhole. Directed by action choreographer Corey Yuen (whose The Transporter I actually sort of liked), the film, a head-scratching mix of elaborate camera angles and stultifying "Dragnet" editing, is so dedicated to trundling from one rigorously disinteresting action set-piece to the next that it's fair to wonder why the filmmakers even bothered to provide exposition of any sort.
It would hardly be worse if So Close were a shampoo commercial, and truth be told, it resembles one more often than not. Take the picture's first action sequence: a white-clad Shu Qi, as some sort of hi-tech hit-person, infiltrates an evil CEO's cone of silence amid a storm of glass shards flying in slow-motion as she, hanging from the ceiling, calmly caps a few henchman. Languorous not suddenly the equivalent of "thrilling," the scene, if it does anything, makes the action scenes in the last couple of Matrix flicks monuments to realism and excitement. Oh, and it ends with The Carpenters' "Close to You." Yeah.
Its plot a mess of in-fighting, technobabble, and manufactured intrigues, the picture has been compared to McG's Charlie's Angels films for their high-flying, chicks-in-cat-suits sensibility--and, in truth, the comparison is pretty valid. So Close is vapid, the action is over-reliant on computer effects, and the acting is occasionally charming in a killer cheesecake sort of way. What else to make of a film that has a pair of assassin sisters (Shu and Zhao Wei) fighting each other for a video camera in a bubble bath? Hot on their trail is a tough girl cop (Karen Mok) whose gunfight in an elevator isn't making me forget about the one in Sonatine.
The quintessential example of what happens when Hong Kong cinema decides to emulate a Hollywood blockbuster action genre that has essentially been emulating Hong Kong cinema for the last fifteen years or so, So Close is a third-generation facsimile with all the quality decay such a thing implies. Its visual polish is at complete odds with its appalling cheesiness, though two things save So Close from instant obsolescence: a late-film event (and subsequent love subplot) that would simply never occur in the corresponding American version, and a climactic sword battle that reminds that non-Tarantino Caucasians just don't know what to do with a good piece of steel.
Columbia TriStar releases So Close on DVD in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video transfer that fairly pops. Edge enhancement proves not terribly distracting, colours are sharp, and black levels are black. A professional production in every technical aspect, every dime of its unusual-for-Hong-Kong budget is on display, for better or for worse. The default Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is the dubbed Cantonese version--resist it and plug in the original DD 5.1 Mandarin track instead: it doesn't render the performances good, but it does improve them. (Needless to say, avoid the English dub altogether--if it's bad to read, imagine what it's like to hear.) All three mixes are loud while making scattershot usage of atmospherics. Scenes with deadly rains of exploding glass just shouldn't be relegated mainly to the front speakers. (For ardent fans, I've heard that a Hong Kong region 3 DVD of So Close features amazing DTS audio, although I'd wager it's only an option with the Cantonese dub.)
The only special features to speak of are trailers for this film, Big Shot's Funeral, Black Mask 2: City of Masks, Charlie's Angels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Chen Kuo Fu's nifty Double Vision, and Returner. Originally published: December 30, 2003.