Once upon a time, we'd be getting a knockabout family comedy with a tourist-brochure setting for Chinese New Year, a tradition that goes back to before the Second World War. Jackie Chan always had a madcap adventure to celebrate Spring Festival, usually with a drunken, elaborately choreographed dance through a collapsing set.
Not for the Year of the Dragon, apparently. This Friday's holiday spectacular from Hong Kong is a hard-boiled crime drama, The Viral Factor. The film starts with a Chinese security agent and his fiancée taking two bullets to the head – in right above the brow and out the other side with a slow motion splash.
Yes, Happy New Year!
There is a family and travel angle. The security agent, Jon Won (Jay Chou) was at work in Jordan trying to rescue a pretty germ-warfare specialist. Recovering from his bullet wound, our hero is told by mom that he must again travel abroad and locate long-lost brother Wan Yang (Nicholas Tse).
The sibling just happens to be a crook involved in the very crime that left our hero with a whistling in his head.
Eventually the brothers connect and get caught up in a spiralling misadventure that takes them from Hong Kong to Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. Along the way, they're involved with fights on trains, inside an upside-down crashing car, on two boats and a pinwheeling helicopter.
All of this is important because if the bad guys, who speak English, get their way, the world will be decimated by a smallpox virus that wipes out billions.
The Viral Factor is deliriously far-fetched. And one wishes director Dante Lam ( The Beast Stalker) could have at least had some giddy fun smashing all his toys around. But his new film is tediously overwrought and drably made, with scenes punctuated by synthesized drums out of eighties American TV drama.
Hurry back, Jackie Chan. Chinese New Year isn't the same without you.
Special to The Globe and Mail
The Viral Factor
- Directed by Dante Lam
- Written by Dante Lam and Wai Lun Ng
- Starring Jay Chou, Nicholas Tse, Ling Peng and Bing Bai
- Classification: 18A
- 2 stars