Action movies typically isn’t the genre people will go digging through for a good story, and Option Zero (1997) will remind some of why. Directed by Dante Lam, whom I consider to be China equivalent to Michael Bay, has been sloppy in the films I’ve seen him helm. A common problem with Lam films is starting off good, and losing steam as it goes on as so far every film I’ve seen from Dante Lam feels longer than it should be. Also just like Michael Bay thing for explosions, Dante Lam also has knack for making action sequences pop out from the screen. It’s a skill of his that can be seen in the film in one lengthy action sequence in Option Zero, but unfortunately the faults that plague his movies are more present here than his strengths in his feature film debut as a director.
Option Zero follows the private lives of some of its key members of the HK police force known as SB, and how that affects their work in the field. It’s unfortunate that all these cops live very boring lives. For starter, when the SB officers aren’t talking about anything job related they are either talking about sex, or romantic relationships. In a movie that is just 11 minutes shy from being two hours this cycle of job procedural, sex jokes, and romantic drama dialogue wears you out. Aside from these things, there’s nothing the film characters choose to talk about. If a conversation seems like it’s going to break this cycle, it goes right back into its familiar routine.
Whenever Option Zero focuses on the SB officers doing their jobs all the task feel largely unrelated to one another in the overarching story. Capture a group of criminals dead or alive in a hotel, go chase after a criminal with valuable information, stop a gun deal, and finally protect someone important. Even if you spot the small connection, it doesn’t build up to the climatic action sequence in any form. A shootout that occurs in a container port 55 minutes into the movie, has a South Korean criminal, who evaded the SB officers in a previous action scene, killing off a major character only to have that same Korean criminal disappear for over 40 minutes before haphazardly just putting him in the climatic action sequence. You go almost half the film length without any build up towards that encounter, and when you do get to the climax there’s no confirmation if this South Korean criminal is the same that killed off a major character earlier. All the action sequences simply happen without the excitement one would hope these sequences would provide.
Now the meat of the film’s plot focus on romantic relationships. Initially, I was on board to see how the SB officers job would take a toll in their personal lives, and all it amount to was serviceable. It has too many subplots that get scatter around during the run time, half of which don’t even bother to get properly resolve. For example, there’s a love triangle in the movie involving our lead character Ben Chan (Julian Cheung), Chan’s current civilian girlfriend Kelly (Carman Lee), and Monica Leung (Monica Chan) who is basically Chan’s best friend. Monica who gets written like a third wheel, gets mentioned pretty early in the movie, and gets established as clearly having a crush on Chan. Leading to some interesting scenes like when Chan gets asked by Kelly if she’s the first person he’ll think about if he’s dying. Other times, it’s the soap opera treatment of “you never notice my feelings, or will you will never love me like I want you to”. This plotline, despite becoming the focal point of the movie as it progresses simply ends. There’s also no mention if Monica relationship with another character evolve into anything more romantic affecting another subplot by having no resolution.
Other characters in the film also suffer the same fate of repetitive dialogue; talk about their job, talk about sex, and than talk about relationship to reiterate once again. Dialogue related to the SB officer work is purely exposition while anything related to sex is a jab at comedy. Unfortunately, the jab at comedy eventually stop to become the equivalent of a bad high school drama. Something gets brought up that appears to be a big deal only to be forgotten about over time. Like Chan’s partner Sing (Anthony Wong) having a things for boats, and not using that characteristic of Sing for anything even though a scene is dedicated to it, or the fact Sing wife possibly cheated on him is also dropped. The supporting characters are only here to provide some fluff to the story since it’s main plotline doesn’t have much to sustain itself during the runtime. Getting multiple scenes of characters simply hanging around each other like friends. Despite the length the film would go to provide characterization, even forgetting it’s an action film for half of it runtime, characters still come out feeling flat by the end.
Finally, the G4 unit finally pops up in the final stretches of the film, and it’s simply more melodrama. The part of this being a police unit that only takes in the best is expected dialogue, but after many melodramatic scenes it would be nice to return to its characters prioritizing something else on their minds besides love. It’s this circling around the same three topic that make these characters shallow. Without going in depth into what it chooses to talk about everything feels detached emotionally. The film can whatever amount of time it wants on developing it cast, but without adding, or evolving their plotline beyond their introduction the effort seems wasteful. It has it mind set on something, but doesn’t bother developing it to the best it can be.
Julian Cheung is our stiff leading man in G4: Option Zero. He’s unable to express much, even during the action sequences he even struggle to show the most basic signs of struggle. However, seeing Cheung being passable in a action scene is better than him trying to emote in the dramatic scenes. His delivery lacks any emphasis on emotion typically wearing the same expression from beginning to end. His other co-star like Alex Cheung Hung On also suffers from the same issues. However, since Alex Cheung isn’t on screen frequently he’s comes off as passable instead of stiff like Julian Cheung. Carman Lee, and Monica Lee fare a little bit better, though not by much. Their dialogue delivery as the emotional support, or unrequited love is what you would expect them to be. They’re fine, and unlike their male co-stars, can carry a scene by their acting chops.
My favorite character in the movie was Sing, and that’s because Anthony Wong was playing the character, even in a lesser effort in terms of acting, is still far memorable than any of his co stars. He’s the most believable with his performance encompassing his middle aged, slightly overweight, physical appearance of a veteran officer. Wong unique appearance easily makes him stand out among the more physically fit looking cast. By becoming Sing, Anthony Wong provides the film only moments of good drama, and comedy since he bothers to mold the weakness of the script into a strength. Easily being able to do the drama, the comedy, and action side of his role convincingly. Unlike the script, Anthony Wong found a way to balance the different tone into his performance never feeling out of character in anything he does. Anthony Wong is the only actor in the film who gives a good performance despite the weak material he was working with. There’s also a cameo from Michael Wong whom starred in the previous two installments of this franchise. His appearance adds nothing to the movie. There is one other actor, Paul Cheng Jang Bong whom plays a South Korean criminal who acts as a sorta-foil, but his performance is onenote leaving little to add on.
The film’s best action sequence is easily a lengthy shootout in a container port. It’s the only action sequence that feels inspired, and where the action choreography shines. Asides from keeping the action movie, the gunplay here in particular have more emphasizes in bullets piercing the background. In this container port action sequence, there’s a very brief shotgun bout between a SB officer played by Anthony Wong, and a Korean criminal that’s easily the highlight of the sequence. Not only do both characters barely miss each other, but quickly have to evade each other gun fire in from a close range. If the film had more dynamic gunfights like this brief shotgun bout than it would have been worth sitting through 40 plus minutes of characters moping around about love, or death worth it. Aside from this container port shootout, the action sequences are sub-par, even the climax itself doesn’t high end things on a high note.
Option Zero is a messy movie that will leave action junkie, or anyone craving a good story unsatisfied. There’s not enough to the story to keep events interesting, and the action sequences only once rises above your average action movie from China/Hong Kong, but even it’s one good action sequence won’t keep you around. Anthony Wong is the one positive G4: Option Zero has to offer, and that’s only when he’s onscreen. Being an example of melodrama, romance, and action not coming together like it should.