Priest is set in an alternate reality where man has been at war with vampires since the beginning of time. Now in a Blade Runner meets the Vatican future, the church rules over the populace and the vampires’ threat is overcome by holy super soldiers, called Priests…or so they think. When the vamps rear their fangs again and the church is too arrogant to believe it, a rebellious Priest (Paul Bettany) goes to meet the threat himself, as his fellow Priests are sent to stop him.
Flick is directed by Scott Stewart from a script by Cory Goodman, based on a comic book mini-series of the same name by Min-Woo Hyung. At less than 90 minutes, this genre mash up doesn’t take much time to develop characters, or it’s cliché ridden story. It’s edited at a rapid fire pace and definitely looks like a patchwork of scenes from a much longer movie. Stripped down to bare bones, Priest is a lean mean action machine, but without a strong story or characters to endear ourselves, it’s a hollow machine. Priest makes good use of it’s moderate (by today’s standards) budget, although the CGI ranges from good to SYFY channel quality. The film does not make good use of a decent cast, including Karl Urban and Maggie Q, as their roles are paper thin. The action is fine, if unremarkable and director Stewart brings his flick in very by-the-numbers, giving no real energy to the proceedings or performances. There is some basic entertainment value, but the general feeling here is that this could have been so much more had the filmmakers aspired to deliver something less superficial than the two dimensional comic book we got. It looks good, at least here is that.
DRAGON SQUAD (2005)
A Hong Kong actioneer with Michael Biehn, Maggie Q and Hong Kong Cinema legends Sammo Hung and Simon Yam that is also produced by Steven Seagal…sounds too good to be true…and sadly, to a degree, it kinda is. The before mentioned stars are not the main focus, only Biehn and Hung have considerable screen time. It’s really a showcase for a bunch of young actors playing a crack Interpol squad out to catch the bad guys. Maggie Q and Biehn are among the villains and Hung is the nurturing veteran cop, while Yam is barely on screen as a harried police chief. We watch these Hong Kong flicks for action and while there isn’t as much as we’d like, the action there is can be quite bloody. Unnecessarily so at times, but the Hong Kong cinema has always had a tendency for overindulgence and that’s kinda why we like it.
This action thriller is also slowed down by too much over-stylized camera tricks. Director/co-writer (with Lau Ho-Leung) Daniel Lee went to film school and wants everyone to know it. All the distracting camera work hinders the action at times and slows down the drama. Too many grainy black and white flashbacks or jittery hand held camera shots. It really slows down the pace. Scenes seem to take twice as long as they should. The script also likes to stop the story dead, at times, to focus on sub plots, like Biehn’s relationship with a gangster’s girlfriend (Li Bingbing). It’s important to the plot, but still seriously slows down a film that cries out for a quicker pace. Veterans like John Woo and Tsui Hark knew how to balance the drama and the action perfectly. Lee could take a few tips from those masters. Not to say this tale of Interpol cops vs a squad of tough as nails bad guys doesn’t have entertainment value, it does, as it tries to be something in the vein of Michael Mann’s Heat. Lee does still succeed in pulling off a couple of strong shoot-out sequences (ex: an alley shoot out about 2/3 through) despite his over-stylizing everything and I dug the blood-soaked final showdown. As usual with Hong Kong flicks, there is some beautiful cinematography, this time by Tony Cheung.
In the end, it still falls very short of some of the more classic Hong Kong action flicks like Hard Boiled or Infernal Affairs. Not great, but there are worse ways to spend an evening and certainly worth a look if you are a Hong Kong Action Cinema nut like me…and the cast is worth watching it for alone, even if it’s far from perfect.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) bullets.