borrowing for the fourth time (previously in crocodile hunter, the last blood aka hard-boiled 2, and city hunter) from the die hard template, wong jing’s meltdown aka high risk sticks closest to its inspiration. the majority of the movie takes place inside a high-rise, instead of just a third act setting. the action hero this time is played by jet li, after his breakup with tsui hark, at the tail end of his most prolific era, but before he went west to hollywood.
of course, wong is not willing to settle for just one formula. he excels at throwing in every popular and commercially successful cultural artifacts on top of the central formula (e.g. gambling + rain man = god of gamblers). it works rather well in this case. released in 1995 (the same summer as di3 hard 3: new york drift), high risk aka meltdown is a cut above the standard martial-artist-in-a-die-hard-situation.
while jet li is no doubt the hero of the movie, he actually shares the lead with pop singer and sometime actor jacky cheung (curry and pepper with stephen chow, wong kar-wai’s days of being wild). cheung has been associated with jackie chan as they have similar nose and share similar names. and the similarities don’t stop there. cheung’s character, frankie lone, sounds similar to chan’s chinese name. cheung’s character, a movie star, also emphasizes to the press that he does his own stunts. in reality he’s actually a drunken womanizer. his father and manager (played by famed character actors charlie cho and wu ma respectively), who follow him everywhere he goes, are carbon copies of chan’s real life father and manager. the seemingly merciless digs at jackie chan came from wong’s negative experience during the making of city hunter, a movie that chan frequently names as his least favorite of his movies.
the i.o.a.s. is more speed-ish than die hard-ish. terrorists take over a school (in city a) where rich kids attend and li’s wife works. so it’s kind of toy soldiers-ish too. the speed-ish part comes when the terrorists blow up a school bus where li’s wife and kids are in. yes, there is the blue-wire-or-red-wire scene, with the red digital countdown in tow. this is not surprising since speed made more money at the box office in hong kong the previous summer than any other movies.
two years after the i.o.a.s., li appears to be the emotionless action hero. not only does he pick up smoking, he also shows no fear or care as the stuntman for cheung’s movie star. the movie star character allows wong opportunities to insert the kind of humor he loves, the success rate is about 50/50. meanwhile, before we get to the meat of the movie, there are expository scenes setting up some supporting characters such as a tabloid reporter (wong jing staple chinmy yau), a cop (yeung chung-hin) having problems with his girlfriend (charlie yeung from wong kar-wai’s ashes of time and fallen angels, tsui hark’s the lovers, love in the time of twilight, and seven swords, jet li’s the scripture with no words, and jackie chan’s new police story), and the dynamics within the terrorist group.
perhaps because it’s not a live action anime/manga adaptation, the movie as a whole is not as cringe-worthy as city hunter. the setups in the first act do pay off later on. it also helps that it only takes about twenty minutes before we get to the high-rise building where the rest of the movie takes place.
while the film is bookended by speed-ish elements (bus with bomb blows up, love interest held hostage by evil villain strapped with bomb), the main course is die hard-ish through and through. i don’t know the spending habits of the bad guys but after the ransom from the i.o.a.s., they decided to steal three valuable antiques from an exhibition that takes place in the skyscraper. an event that not only invited the rich but also the famous, i.e. movie star frankie lone.
as with most hong kong movies, what makes it worthwhile is the additions, deviations, and variations that make it interesting. a simple die hard-ish movie starring jet li would have been boring. the showbiz satire angle allows the movie to split the john mcclane character into two. it’s interesting that the drunken movie star is held hostage while li’s character keeps trying to enter the building because he wants to avenge the killer of his wife and kid.
in addition to the heroes, the terrorist group is also adapted into a more interesting dynamic. as per die hard 1, there’s a long hair henchman (billy chow from eastern condors, dragons forever, fist of legend, and future cops) who has a personal vendetta against the movie star though this is stemmed from the movie star’s screen persona. the interesting thing here is that the longhaired villain has the same retarded hair as skrillex, so you know he’s a villain.
as in di3 hard 3 with a vengeance, one of the villains is a woman, though i think she is used better here than in die hard 3. this sole female villain, played by valarie chow from wong kar-wai’s chungking express, has scenes set to classical music a la die hard. the lead villain named the doctor, played by kelvin wong siu from supercop, casino raiders ii, don’t give a damn, and triads the inside story is gruber-esque in that he’s ruthless yet cultured and noble. the hacker, of course, has darker skin and wears glasses.
there is also ben lam, from police story, project a ii, police story ii, and so close, as a secondary villain who has a memorable fight against jet li. this character is reminiscent of the military leader played by john amos (lock up, coming to america, tv’s the fresh prince of bel-air, and tv’s good times) from die hard 2: die harder.
though they make fun of jackie chan relentlessly, i don’t think this movie would have been made without chan. jet li has several amazing action sequences but it’s not the fist of legend variety. the first memorable sequence has li driving a compact car into the building and into an elevator. li also uses surrounding props and furniture as weapons, something chan has done in almost every movie.
wong jing may have put the whole thing together but i have to give props to action director corey yuen, who’s responsible for the quick action scenes. yuen is perhaps most famous for directing doa: dead or alive and transporter 1. he’s also known for working with li (the enforcer, the defender aka the hong kong bodyguard remake, the legend i and ii, and the legend of the red dragon) and stephen chow (fist of fury 1991 and all for the winner), in addition to no retreat no surrender 1 & 2.
though the movie doesn’t quite work as a whole, it’s nevertheless filled with entertaining sequences. in addition to the car scene, there is a better than expected helicopter sequence. as useless as the movie star character is made out to be, he eventually gets a pretty brutal yet engaging fight scene against the skrillex villain. as per hong kong movie tradition, it requires a higher level of suspension of disbelief (the timing of elevators, the bad guys bringing snakes with them?). as choppy and bipolar as it is, this is one of the more entertaining movie on both hong kong movie and die hard-ish movie scales.
p.s. the chinese title 鼠膽龍威 is only one word away from the chinese title of die hard (虎膽龍威). it replaces the tiger in the original die hard chinese title with a mouse/rat, which is appropriate in context.
p.p.s. the original hong kong version seen below is available on youtube. while they are the same length, the u.s. version soften the more graphic scenes. the original’s orchestral score is replaced with hip hop music in the u.s. version, a la supercop.
meltdown aka high risk
the pitch: die hard in a…building
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: mostly jet li, who handles the action, jacky cheung as the comic side
the gruber factor: kelvin wong siu as the supposedly charismatic, cultured suave villain. he has a long hair henchman and a militaristic second henchman.
the hans objective: three antique treasures
wrong place at the wrong time: while the movie star character played by cheung is one of the hostages, li’s action hero keeps trying to enter the building.
the help: li has a cop as a sidekick, who’s girlfriend is one of the hostages
the family element: li’s family is killed by the villain in the i.o.a.s. the cop sidekick’s girlfriend is inside the building. cheung’s father and manager are amongst the hostages.
bonfire of the weaponry: fist, martial arts, light fixtures, guns, poisonous knife, car, helicopter, helicopter blades
last man standing: li surprisingly doesn’t have a one on one fight scene with the villain but rather a bomb, cheung’s movie star has a longer fight with the skrillex looking henchman
unbearables: the bookend scenes are no doubt inspired by speed, which is die hard-ish. the main setting is inside a skyscraper a la die hard 1. two physically unique looking henchmen: one with long hair and one in military garb. villains have scenes set to classical scores (in the original hong kong version). helicopter attempts to land on roof which turns out to be a trap. said helicopter explodes. lead villain pretends to be a victim, communicates with police and squad team outside via walkie talkie, and uses political excuse to create diversion and stall for time. there’s a woman in the terrorist group a la die hard with a vengeance. li is mistaken as a villain by authorities. wong jing previously directed the die hard-ish crocodile hunter, the last blood, and city hunter, the last of which also stars chingmy yau. meltdown’s assistant director later went on to direct another meltdown aka the black sheep affair, marketed in the u.s. as the sequel to meltdown without any of the cast from this movie.
Search for Shu dan long wei (High Risk) (Meltdown) on CanIStream.It