Armageddon -- *** (out of 5) (1997)
Cast: Andy Lau, Michelle Reis, Kim Penn, Anthony Wong
Directed By Gordon Chan
With all of the shoot-em-up ballets of bullets that have been so popular in the John Woo era of Hong Kong cinema, director Gordon Chan has been refreshing in that he has taken the opposite route from his peers and gone for more realism in gunfights. Curiously, ARMAGEDDON is a very un-Chan-like film, not because it doesn't strive for realism, but because it deals with very unrealistic elements like religious doctrines, resurrection, and other mythologies as its premise. Nevertheless, it's quite a premise, and if ARMAGEDDON could have delivered this without the unnecessary fighting every 20 minutes, it would have been a Hell of a lot better.
Andy Lau stars as the head of a telecommunications company, and a genius in his own right. He has suffered the loss of his beloved wife, burying himself in his work ever since, for which he receives the highest of accolades. One such accolade is being named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in the world of technology, but this honor is an ambivalent one in that others on this list have begun disintegrating into a pile of dust for unknown reasons. He sets out to find out what's causing these disturbances, only to find the answers may be even deeper than a genius can comprehend.
While I'm in love with Chan's more realistic approach, had he gone the route of the similar American film CONTACT, the improbability pill would have been a little easier to swallow. ARMAGEDDON is still engrossing enough as entertainment, mostly because the themes are so resonant and the script develops the mystery nicely. The casting is quite good, with Lau giving an atypically subdued performance (although typical for Chan protagonists) and Anthony Wong with another great character portrayal as Lau's friend and protector, and some touching side stories involving love and friendship shore up the emotional elements well.
Where ARMAGEDDON goes wrong is through the need, probably predicated by pressure to make things exciting amid the heavy drama, to toss in fight scenes and gunfights in places where they are not required. For instance, there is a brawl at a restaurant that makes little sense within the scope of the story, except to show Lau has little protection against any who might want to kill him. Yet, this point had already been well-founded, and it takes too long just to reiterate it. No doubt the producers probably felt the film too "talky" and needed to spruce up the events, but in doing so it makes the film very uneven and less compelling in the end.
ARMAGEDDON is still recommended due to its interesting X-FILES-like qualities and Chan's unconventional style. While the bad elements of the film do great damage to the film's overall impact, there's still enough moments of genuine goodness to pull off a recommendation as spooky but smart entertainment.
Plus, it's better than the American film of the same name.
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