Stephen Shin's "Black Cat" (at the Nuart) is Hong Kong's answer to "La Femme Nikita"--and also to its American remake, "Point of No Return." As such, it packs plenty of punch and should please devout fans of Hong Kong action flicks. There are several virtuoso set pieces, but John Woo has nothing to fear.
The film divides neatly into three half-hour parts. The first is composed entirely of deftly sustained nonstop action--with plenty of Hong Kong-style violence--as a truck driver, apparently somewhere in Upstate New York, makes the literally fatal mistake of coming on too strong to a waitress (Jade Leung) at a truck stop cafe. Leung quickly wastes him, then a cop plus several others before she's shot down herself.
When she regains consciousness she finds herself in the hands of the CIA, which has had implanted in her brain a microchip designed to emit periodic jolts of pain that can be relieved only by a medication doled out by the agency.
She has no alternative but to spend the next year in training to become a CIA superagent. This takes up another half-hour of screen time almost as lively as the first section. At last, she's ready to be turned loose, and is assigned to Hong Kong, where she is to work as a photojournalist--and where she falls in love with another photographer (Thomas Lam).
It's a long way from slinging hash at that trucker's cafe to an elegant Hong Kong high-rise apartment, but how is Leung to manage a successful love affair and at the same time be on constant call from the CIA? In her film debut, the trim, pretty Leung handles action as adroitly as Schwarzenegger or Stallone, but as appealing as she and Lam are, their romance is conventional and slows down the final third of the film.
Shin certainly is skillful, but "Black Cat" (Times-rated Mature for violence, some sex) is essentially routine, an all-too-obvious kickoff to a series that already has its third installment in production. Not helping matters is that the print being shown is scratchy, worn-out and its color murky in the utmost.
Jade Leung: Catherine, then Erica
Thomas Lam: Allen Yeung
Simon Yam: Brian
A Headliner release of a D&B Films production. Producer-director Stephen Shin. Executive producer Dickson Poon. Screenplay by Lam Wai-Iun, Chan Bo-Shun, Lam Tan-Ping. Cinematographer Lee Kin-Keung. Editors Wong Wing-Ming, Kwok Ting-Hung, Wong Chau-On. Costumes Lao Bo-Lam. Music Danny Chung. Art director Fu Tsi-Tsung. Sound Leung Lik-Tsi. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Times-rated Mature (for violence, some sex).