First Option (Fei hu) (1996)
Directed by Gordon Chan

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* *

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When a team of Hong Kong customs officials investigating a drug smuggling ring discover that the persons they are trying to apprehend are trained soldiers, a group of commandoes led by the gritty and unromantic Don Wong (Michael Wong) is called in to assist them, but even they soon learn that the criminals are more of a challenge than they had anticipated.

Gordon Chan's First Option is, by and large, a forgettable film. While it is occasionally entertaining, and is better made than are the great majority of Hong Kong action movies, it simply lacks any qualities which are likely to fascinate the viewer.

The story the director tells is actually fairly coherent, but it is also remarkably unengaging. Even were the narrative able to arouse the viewer's interest, however, the film's characters would still be likely to bore him. Some are little more than stereotypes, others, as Minnie Kwan (Gigi Leung), the head of the team of customs agents working to uncover the drug smuggling ring, are wasted, and still others, as Don Wong, the movie's protagonist, are just incredibly dull. In fact, other than its action sequences, there is little in the film that is likely to interest the viewer. Fortunately, the depictions of combat included in First Option, while neither particularly frequent nor truly riveting, are well realized. Consequently, even though the viewer may never be able to submerge himself in these scenes so that he is carried away by a sense of violent excitement, he is likely to enjoy them.

In many ways, First Option does stand out among the numerous action films being made in Hong Kong. The acting is, for the most part, competent. The production values are decent, and the story is comprehensible. Despite these virtues, however, the movie is never as thrilling as are countless other Hong Kong films which lack such qualities. I cannot say that First Option is a complete failure, but it is far from being memorable.

Review by Keith Allen

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