Synopsis: Visionary Hong Kong action director Ringo Lam brings a darker edge to this fourth Mad Mission film as master thief Sam is entrusted with an experimental prism that creates indestructible supermen. But when Kodyjack, Nancy and their young son are kidnapped by an underworld villain, Sam must escape a team of deadly assassins to rescue his partners from an armed fortress. Asian pop star Sally Yeh co-stars in this wild action hit filled with gratuitous gunfire, martial arts mayhem and some of the maddest chases (and crashes) in the entire series.
eyelights: the hockey game between the Hong Kong Police and Interpol.
eyesores: the drawn-out closing sequence.
In ‘You Never Die Twice’, our three slapsticky Aces return in a bid to try to keep a highly-coveted prism out of a villain’s hands. This particular triangular polyhedron isn’t of any monetary value, however: it’s the key element in a scientific process that can give human beings superhuman strength. Our villain, a complete rip-off of the one in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (played by the same actor, in fact), is willing to kill to get his hands on it.
As one can guess by this premise, the tone of this picture is slightly different from the previous ones. For starters, it’s no longer focused on Sam’s ability as a thief – now he’s relegated to Jackie Chan-esque heroics. Secondly, it’s a little bit more serious in tone, eschewing much of the comic elements that the others were rife with and focusing instead on nail-biting tension. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t jokey, hardly, it just means that it’s mild in comparison to the others.
The fact is that this fourth entry in the seemingly interchangeable and interminable set of ‘Mad Mission‘ films is probably the most middle-of-the road of the bunch, emulating its Hollywood counterparts in the way that it delivers action and thrills. I’m not sure who’s decision it was to dump its popular and relatively unique formula and copy what was already out there, but it takes the series out on a tangent.
Having said this, it’s part of a progression that began with the second one. Whereas the first was kooky and sloppy good fun, the second was childish but more technically proficient. Meanwhile, the third one was even more technically proficient but it also attempted to put together a more coherent story. This fourth one provides audience with the most coherent of the lot and a respectable amount of technical skill.
Of course, this assessment is based on the English-dubbed version, which were also edited down from their original length. ‘Mad Mission 4’, specifically, is shorter than its original version by a good 3 minutes – which likely explain why Sam is suddenly a lab rat right after opening credits when he was nowhere near this lab just before. Whoever edited these film did it with absolutely no respect for storytelling.
Still, even though ‘Mad Mission 4′ is a departure from the series’ formula and was edited without finesse, it is one of the most popular of the series – with some fans preferring it to the others. Personally, I enjoy it precisely because it’s more cohesive than the rest of the lot. While I missed the madcap quality of the other films, I sunk my teeth into this grittier yet convoluted and oft-ridiculous adventure.
My favourite moment is in the first third of the picture, when Sam shows up at a hockey match between the Hong Kong Police and Interpol, to talk to Kodyjak. The game itself is a riot, with barely any hockey being played and most of the action consisting of players beating the crap out of each other. It was weird watching it take place in what looked like an indoor mall, but it was nonetheless a pleasure to watch this satire of the sport.
Of course, the sequence had some bumps in the road, like the random appearance of the scientist’s daughter, a contrivance used to propel the trio into another melee and chase. But this is typical of the series, so it didn’t bother me too much. Nor did the sequence with Kodyjak’s son being tossed about, dropping out of the window and such – I wondered how they did that whilst keeping the child safe, but the bizarreness of the scene was standard fare here.
There weren’t any exceptional stunts or chases that really marked me, but there was this one boat chase with Sam at the wheel, trying to escape an enemy helicopter. Firstly, I was impressed that Sam did all of his own driving and stunts, but I also marveled at how skilled he was at it, swooshing about port and starboard at incredible speeds. The way the sequence ended was ridiculous, but it was otherwise worthy of the best ’80s action films.
So what if the core plot relies heavily on absurd science and that this completely saturates the closing sequence of the film, thereby marring it? ‘Mad Mission 4’ is fun anyway. It’s not highbrow art, it’s not entirely competent, but it’s entertaining enough if one’s expectations are adjusted accordingly. I know that this, and the other films in the series, will likely become late night staples or rainy Sunday afternoon nap fodder for me.
And perhaps someday I’ll get a chance to see them in their original formats, unedited and undubbed. I’m in no mad rush, but I’ll be happy to go places with these Aces again.
Date of viewing: July 28, 2013