SPECIAL ID – Blu-ray review

Veteran Hong Kong director Clarence Fok Yiu-leung (who was born in Canada) has a resume full of actioners and thrillers under his belt.  Rumor has it that Mario Kassar originally wanted him to direct “Basic Instinct 2.”  His films boast such unique names like “Dating a Vampire in Bed”, “Snakeheads” and “Thunder Cop.”  His most recent feature uses a rather generic title which in comparison to his former films sounds like a mid 90’s direct to Showtime movie, “Special ID.” It stars Hong Kong action star of the moment, Donnie Yen.

As the story goes, Chan Chi-Ling aka “Dragon” played by Donnie Yen is an undercover cop who must infiltrate a dangerous crime organization in hopes to take down its leader, Cheung (Collin Chou).  Along the way, he realizes his good friend Lo (Andy On) is involved as well and he is quickly making his way up the crime world ranks.  Dragon is partnered up with the young and sassy Tian Jing (Fang Jing) in hopes to get him to act more like a cop as there are fears that he has been undercover too long and may have lost his moral bearings. Yen wants out completely but is convinced into finishing the job he has started in hopes of one last big bust. Especially since things gets personal once his mother is assaulted and kidnapped.

It is an entertaining idea that is only slightly different from the loads of other undercover actioners which have flooded the genre over the last 10 years. The plot is fairly linear except when the backgrounds of the characters are told through a series of flashbacks which help flesh out relationships and emotional attachments.  Overall, the story can be as ridiculous and hackneyed as they come.  The main attraction here is the martial arts scenes.  Although well-choreographed they still lack a wow factor. It’s hard hitting when it comes to violence but there is nothing extraordinary about it.  In fairness, Fok does not use the easy go-to of shaky cam and fast editing.  He lets the action play out clearly and honestly.  “Special ID” has a silly, playful spirit and at times can be pretty humorous. However, tone is also an issue as it wildly switches between action, goofy comedy and serious distress.  It makes for an uneven experience.

While I have not seen him in much before Yen has an affable quality to his acting which helps him come off as an everyman albeit with very good fighting skills. His athleticism and agility are impressive as he never seems to be out of breath, even in long camera takes. What is even more notable is after viewing this movie I found out he was 50 years old when it was filmed.  I wouldn’t have guessed him to be a day over 35 years old.  Yen seems to be a weekend warrior here in which he gives a rather perfunctory and casual performance.  This is a not necessarily a bad thing.  It gives his character a likable of edge which helps with being able to identify with him.

Well Go USA provides “Special ID” with a 2.35:1 widescreen image that looks as immaculate as digital cinema can be. Shot with a Red One camera, detail and sharpness score high marks, especially in clothes and all the neon signage.  This is a vibrantly colorful movie with nighttime sets in and around Shenzhen (China) and Hong Kong. Black levels are inky and rich. Fans will be pleased with what they see.

Nearly identical 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks can be selected in either English or Mandarin.  Action scenes use all channels fluidly and realistically without any obvious issues.  LFE is sparse but present when needed.  There is also a Dolby 2.0 track that is underwhelming compared to the other two tracks. Subtitles are available for purists.

There is a trailer for the film itself and a sub 5 minute Making Of which sheds a little light on the production process.

Bottom Line:
Well Go USA’s “Special ID” biggest flaw is its lack of being memorable.  There are no standout performances or set pieces. Yen’s hand to hand action scenes are athletically impressive but hackneyed.  There are no moments that help separate it from the rest of the genre. The disc is technically sound with terrific video and audio.  “Special ID” will satisfy action junkies looking for another fix but it won’t last long.