Speed Angels

The first review proper of 2012, and it seems I have some leftover Christmas Turkey.  I was not expecting a whole lot from this so-called sports action film, but it sounded like some low level popcorn munching fun, and had a couple of interesting names in the cast.  Jingle Ma may well be a director with a chequered history, but one of his films did make my top 10 of last year, so I am nothing if not open minded.  Sadly, it is a dire piece of work, and if I was feeling like putting together some clever car-based one liner, I would say it never gets out of first gear.  Problem is, I am not sure the film even is worth that poor bit of wordplay.

Bing (Rene Liu) is preparing for her Wedding to her Japanese husband (Kitamura Kazuki), when she gets a call that he is in a Hotel room with another woman.  Imagine her shock when she finds it to be her friend and fellow Racing Driver teammate Mei (Cecilia Chung).  In the ensuing melee, Bing accidently runs over her sister.  Some years later, the Coach of the titular “Speed Angels” racing team, Gao (Justin Han), finds Bing at the bottom of a bottle, and offers her a chance to race again for the newly reformed team, the carrot being the prize money will help her sister have a life-saving operation.  Gao stumbles across a naturally talented Taxi Driver, Xiaoyi (Tang Wei), and proposes to put the rookie in the other car with the experienced racing Idol.  And for some reason employs her really irritating cousin Gigi (Cheng Yi) as well.  That does not work out so well, as Xiaoyi seems to have a problem when she is being watched (a holdover from her Father’s Death), so Mei is brought into the team.  That bad decision gets even worse when Mei defects to another team – which happens to be run by her now renamed Husband to be/Bing’s ex!!  Not only that, but the dastardly Japanese chap is also determined to attack the Speed Angels by industrial espionage AND by sending the thugs in!  Can Xiaoyi step up and help win the final race of the season?  Can Bing work her way out of an alcoholic haze?  Can Mei see that her husband to be is a total %$*#??

For about 30 minutes I actually thought this film was doing ok.  It obviously was not going to concentrate on the racing too much, preferring instead to play up the drama angle.  Tang Wei and Rene Liu bring a bit of class to proceedings, even if the dialogue is a little poor, and there is a fun sequence with Xiaoyi chasing down some muggers with her Taxi and Kung fu.  And then in one moment it just went downhill.  Fast.

You see Mei is not really accepted by Bing, which is fair enough.  Though to be fair, she seems nice enough.  There is a moment where Xiaoyi has failed to get the place on the team, and Bing is taking out her frustrations on the rookie.  Mei says some nice things to her, and we move on.  Then, 5 minutes later, Xiaoyi gets into a car with an obviously drunk Bing, and a road race with Mei starts.  The race stops, and Bing walks off.  Mei then says – “So you are Xiaoyi?”.  Erm, hang on, you just spoke to her maybe 10 minutes ago???  This lack of care then becomes the signature of the rest of the film.

Some things I could just write off as being the nature of a lowest common denominator Popcorn film.  The fact that a Taxi Driver would be put into an expensive, high performance vehicle.  The fact an Alcoholic would be allowed to race.  The fact a driver could just swap teams at the last minute without anyone knowing.  Scratch that – there is just too much of this.  More than that, there are who subplots that are just totally brushed over – after Bing’s sister is hospitalised, we never see her again (at least we do hear about her eventual status), there is a traitor in the camp yet we never really find out his motivation, and Xiaoyi’s fear of performing in front of an Audience is just forgotten about.  Let us not forget about that mole in the camp – we are given a major dramatic moment that is resolved before the dust has settled!  In short, it attempts a lot of story, but simply does not have the script to carry through on pretty much any of them.

I refuse to talk about the Karaoke-style singing of an obscure 1990’s Country and Western Song.

To cap it all off, after about 100 minutes, we finally get some racing.  And it is the worst kind of CGI I have seen in a long time.  It looks like the highlights reel from a Playstation 2 era Gran Tourismo, intercut with little headshots of our stars in crash helmets.  It is amateurish at best, and quite honestly looks awful.  It does maybe explain why the rest of the film seems to be shot through some strange garish filter – so as not to make those scenes look too artificial.  Sadly, it fails, only making the whole feel look as if it is incorrectly shot and out of focus.

It there anything good about the film?  Well I suppose it does complete the acceptance of Tang Wei into mainstream Chinese cinema, and in the first part of the film, she acquits herself well.  Veteran Pei Pei Cheng seems to be having fun as Xiaoyi’s mother.  Once the film totally crashes and burns after about 30 minutes, neither of them, nor a strangely over-wrought Rene Liu can do anything to save it.  Cecilia Chung possibly sets feminism back maybe 20 years as well.  Not Recommended – it is a confused, ugly, horrible car crash of a film, that does not even have camp value to rescue it – AVOID.

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