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'So Close' to the real action

Though full of punch and fight scenes, the martial arts film is beautifully balletic, never bloody.

September 12, 2003|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

"So Close" is a martial arts valentine to the power of fighting women. It's a slick and delirious Hong Kong action film where women are the high kickers who count, fully capable of putting the hurt on any male who gets in their way. It may sound like "Charlie's Angels," but it puts that glib and soulless film in its place.

What defines "So Close," directed with noticeable esprit by Hong Kong veteran Cory Yuen, is its human dimension and its light and playful sense of fun. Taking itself just seriously enough, "So Close" never feels manufactured. Unexpected in some of its plot twists and sappy by Western standards in some of its romantic moments, it still manages to convince us that more is emotionally at stake for its characters than we've anticipated.

With a trio of attractive women as its protagonists, "So Close" is as beauty conscious as a high-gloss cosmetics commercial, and its leggy stars would likely need a court order to stop them from wandering around in abbreviated shorts whenever possible.

But director Yuen has a reputation for knowing how to make women look good not as mannequins but as fighting machines. Long associated with Jet Li (he's still the star's action choreographer of choice), Yuen directed Michelle Yeoh's debut in "Yes, Madam!" and was the obvious choice for a film in which three popular Asian actresses -- Taiwan's Shu Qi, the mainland's Zhao Wei and Hong Kong's Karen Mok -- make their martial-arts debuts.

The action in "So Close" is beautifully balletic, never bloody. With his skilled use of slow motion and quick cutting, Yuen makes the women look expert. He gets a special kick, so to speak, out of choreographing fights in impossible places, like a battle between two women handcuffed together or a three-way tussle inside an elevator car. As critic and martial-arts expert David Chute wrote, "Just figuring out where to put all the arms and legs in a scene like that must have required the martial arts equivalent of a differential equation."

"So Close" opens with a quintessentially modern crisis: a computer virus that is causing chaos in a company run by the powerful Chow brothers. Suddenly, a force calling itself "Computer Angel" stops the intruder and its stunning personification, the very beautiful Lynn (Shu Qi), arrives in a spiffy white suit, tossing her long black hair with an air of impregnable confidence and elan that turns out to be well-earned.

It also turns out that far from being angels, Lynn and her sister Sue (Zhao Wei) are a Ms. Inside and Ms. Outside team of hit people for hire. While Lynn does the deeds, Sue stays at home and monitors the action on something called the World Panorama surveillance system, which allows access to any and all video security systems.

That division of labor leads to sibling complications when young and reckless Sue decides she deserves a shot at the action. This despite the fact that the World Panorama was in fact an invention of the girls' late father, who was fond of saying: "Daddy is inventing something that will change the course of human history."

As if she wasn't busy enough, Lynn just happens to have a secret flame named Yen (Korean star Seoung-Heon Song) and his reappearance on the scene turns Lynn love struck and moony while demonstrating the yen Hong Kong audiences apparently have for goofy and sentimental adolescent romances in any and all genres.

The sisters are so busy trying to figure out if wedding bells will break up this gang of theirs, they don't pay enough attention to Kong Yat-hung (Mok), an ace policewoman who recognizes the mark fashionable 4 1/2-inch heels make and is soon committing her formidable mind to chasing these women down.

While the goings-on in "So Close" are programmatic up to a point, the action is frequent and always electric and the film has a streak of genuine wackiness -- witness its amusing use of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song "Close to You" as a key plot device.

The summer may be over, but an action film that makes you smile with pleasure is welcome no matter what the season.


'So Close'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Considerable violence, but balletic rather than brutal

Shu Qi ... Lynn

Zhao Wei ... Sue

Karen Mok ... Kong Yat-hung

Seoung-Heon Song ... Yen

A Columbia Pictures film Production Asia and Eastern (HK) Film Production Co. Ltd. Production, released by Strand Releasing. Director Cory Yuen. Producer Chui Po Chu. Screenplay Jeff Lau. Cinematography Venus Keung. Editor Cheung Ka Fai. Costumes Yee Chung-Man. Music Sam Kao. Art director Eddy Wong. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

Exclusively at the Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., (310) 478-6379.

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