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Review: The Viral Factor (Directed by Dante Lam) (Fantasia 2012)

Aug. 14, 2012by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: After taking a bullet to the head on an assignment, special agent Jon (Jay Chou) is given only weeks to live. He goes home to Taiwan to see his mother, who reveals to him that years ago, his degenerate gambler father took Jons heretofore unknown younger brother Man Yeung (Nicolas Tse) to a new life in Malaysia. Wanting to reconnect with his brother before dying, Jon hops a plane to Malaysia. No sooner does he land than he discovers Yeung is unwittingly caught up in a terrorist plot to unleash a deadly strain of smallpox. The two must now team up to prevent an outbreak.

REVIEW: The last few years have been kinda lean for Hong Kong action films. In the late-eighties/ nineties, a film like THE VIRAL FACTOR might not have really stood out, as dozens upon dozens of high caliber action flicks were coming out every year. This was the heyday of Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Ti Lung, Danny Lee, Anthony Wong, and more. Nowadays, action potboilers are fewer and farther between, although a few directors, including Benny Chan, and this films director Dante Lam have tried to keep the genre going.

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Dante Lams VIRAL FACTOR is vintage-style Hong Kong action on a massive scale. Lams got relatively big budget ($18 million US) to work with and two huge local stars in the lead- Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse. Chous probably better known in North America than Tse, coming off his part as Kato in THE GREEN HORNET. Here, Chou doesnt have to play second fiddle to Seth Rogan, and once again puts his athleticism to good use as the very-Jason Bourne like Jon.

In a way, THE VIRAL FACTOR plays out like a Jerry Bruckheimer-style remake of the classic film noir DOA, with Chous character spending most of the film walking around not knowing when hes going to drop dead. Coincidently, the mastermind behind the Smallpox strain happens to be the very agent (played by Andy On) who set him up- meaning hes got a chance at payback before checking out. Chous character is a pretty traditional HK hero- being righteous, and mostly free from any kind of character flaws. He selflessly throws himself into action early on, before even knowing his brother is a part of the plot- and naturally, is an expert at seemingly all forms of combat- despite being near death (its only acknowledged as the occasional migraine).

Tse probably has the more interesting role, playing the scumbag criminal with a heart (we know hes a good guy because hes a single father with a cute daughter)- although if you watch other Tse actioners, like BEAST STALKER or STOOL PIGEON, youll see this isnt exactly new territory for him. I gotta hand it to Tse though. Initially a cantopop pretty boy (raised in Vancouver), in recent years Tses been throwing himself into action films, doing a lot of his own fights and stunts (his film, INVISIBLE TARGET is a gem). Hes cool here, and he and Chou make a dynamic ass-kicking duo.

Like a lot of Lams smaller-scaled HK flicks, VIRAL FACTOR is loaded with action- so much that you may find it exhausting. The rhythm of the film is pretty much 10 minutes of action for every five minutes of dialogue- so the plot ends up being pretty simple, but then again- you dont watch a film like this for story. The action scenes are impressively mounted and shot, with Lam really setting this up on a global scale, and getting amazing mileage out of his budget. The production values here are easily on par with any $100 million plus Hollywood film.

For Hong Kong action fans, THE VIRAL FACTOR is obviously a must-see, and hopefully Lams success in the genre encourages more folks to jump on the bandwagon. With Jackie Chan calling it quits after CHINESE ZODIAC (at least as far as action movies go) and most of the other HK giants getting a little long in the tooth, its really up to guys like Tse and Chou to keep this genre going. If VIRAL FACTOR is any indicator of how things are going to go, were in good hands.

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