One factor that can dictates what I choose to watch is sometime having a single actor I like. Simon Yam for instance, is one of my favorite actors whom I first saw acting in Johnnie To films like Exiled (2006), Election (2005), Triad Election (2006), and Vengeance (2009). After those strings of movies, I still started noticing Simon Yam in more films I’ve watched, and everytime he proved reliable in delivering solid, to great performances in all his roles. Seeing him in any film I come across whether it’s him headlining it, or in a supporting role I always take pleasure in seeing Yam on screen. It doesn’t matter the quality of the movie he ends being as he’s typically a bright spot in them. It’s no different here in the average action crime film Man Wanted displaying no matter what film he’s in, Simon Yam makes it a bit better.
Man Wanted follows undercover policeman Lok Man-wah (Simon Yam) setting up a sting for a notorious drug lord, and his friend Luk Chan-fung (Yu Rongguang). There’s more to the story than the synopsis implies as the first arc of the Man Wanted would have been the climax in any other Hong Kong action crime film. What this film ignores is the tedious busywork of other movies like it. Plot points you can find in heroic bloodshed movies showing blood brothers bonding, the undercover officer uncertain where his loyalties lie, and the head criminal betrayal by the one he felt he trusted the most are quickly dealt with. It caught me off guard since in Hong Kong action films of these kind, these plot points are sprinkle throughout the story instead of being quickly dealt with. However, some plot points like the orchestrated death of a love ones are saved down the line, and aren’t as effective as they should be.
Man Wanted biggest issue is the melodramatic romance overtaking everything else in the story. Establishing early on some romantic tension between Lok Man-wah, and Yung (Christy Chung) while also piling on to the fact that Lok Man-wah has a girlfriend. The script doesn’t delve much into Lok Man-wah being conflicted between the women he love, but rather is more conflicting where his loyalties lies. The more interesting aspect of Lok Man-wah character is typically shoved aside so the movie can plow through it material to meet an end goal. Instead of simply having Lok Man-wah tell Yung he can’t pursue a romantic relationship with her. Lok Man-wah just continues seeing Yung, and makes her believe there’s a possibility for a romantic relationship. If this love triangle was use for anything thematic like tackling the hardship of staying committed than yes I can forgive it. However, simply having it here for Lok Man-wah to have a back-up woman is a pretty poor decision. Especially nearly every scene involving Lok Man-wah, and any of his two lovers have dialogue on par with corny romance dramas. There’s also the plot point that Lok Man-wah quickly gets over the death of one of the women he loves, and rebound with the other very quickly. Meaning whatever time was spent with either character was pointless if it got tossed aside as quickly as it did.
Leading into another issue of characters simply acting stupid. Not just the police force whom didn’t bother searching for a body to confirm a drug dealer death, but the lone fact as a officer Lok Man-wah does some stupid things. For example, there’s a scene where Lok Man-wah drives Chan-fung to a school so he can pick up someone, but instead Chang-fung ends up kidnapping a rival drug lord child, and results in a brief gunfight at a middle school. In all his years of experience as an officer, Lok Man-wah decides to drive him to the police station parking lot, and decides not to turn him in to the authority when Luk Chan-fang gives him his word he’ll leave town after settling business. Apparently Lok Man-wah thinks placing his trust in a man he betrayed, whom also kidnapped a kid from a middle school, and started a gunfight with citizens around in a middle school is a guy he can trust to keep his word. There’s also the typical character of the superior officer not getting along with the lead character, although given how stupid some of the people act in this movie the superior officer behavior is reasonable this time around.
Finally, the one aspect the film does mildly well is characterization. Despite there never being a feeling of raising action, the characters have some meat to them. Motivations come across as reasonable, even if the action they do goes against their characteristics. A good amount of time is focus on Lok Man-wah turmoil of where his loyalties lies, and tackles that part well. Focusing more the relationship he made in both world rather than morality within them. Doing a fine job getting across he doesn’t know what world he belongs in. Another thing the film does well is make you question the outcome of the movie. Adding enough twists to it climax that makes the climax slightly more interesting than the entire movie before it. There’s some good to be found within the messiness of melodrama, and stupid characters.
Simon Yam presence in the film is enjoyable, and delivers a solid a performance. Without strong material, Yam in the movie rarely comes off as the character he’s portraying. However, he is able to make his character not come across as bad as he is. Yam delivers the right amount of emotion in every scene he’s in preventing scenes from being too melodramatic, or over the top no matter how hard the direction, and screenplay want to them to be. He eases through the film no problem as a leading man. Making sure there isn’t a weak scene he’s in, even when no action is abound. For a non martial artist, Yam performances in the few choreographed fight can trick you into thinking he is one. His gunfights here on the other hand will the lack action choreography he’s capable of like in films like in John Woo’s Bullet In the Head (1990).
Roongguang Yu plays villain Lu Chan Feng pretty well. Standing toe to toe to Simon Yam in terms of acting. The only downside to his performance is the closer it reaches the end the more over the top he acts. Going from acting somewhat subdue of his character to eventually becoming absurd. Both Christy Chung, and Eileen Tung whom play Simon Yam love interest, and the supportive character. They do fine in their roles, but only Christy Chung gets much meat in her material. She’s allow to express a wider range of emotion for her character. Another thing that helps is, like Yam, she underplays the more melodramatic dialogue to make it better than it is. Aside from them, there is Cherie Chan Siu-Ha who either is too melodramatic, or over acting. Plus, her sporting an afro out of nowhere for the rest of the movie prevents her from being taken seriously.
When it comes to the action they are the only thing that somewhat stand out, but not by much. The fight sequences are good, though end as quickly as they start. Given that Simon Yam isn’t a martial artist the lack of them makes sense. In terms of choreography, Yam doesn’t do anything impressive. His fight sequence in the beginning of the movie has him making quick usage of his props to take care of three men. No high flying moves, or elaborate counter moves are to be found in this, and the other fight scene. It’s impressive that Yam looks convincing doing them.
Unfortunately, these short skirmishes are the only time the action tries to be above your standard fare. Gunfights on the other hand are very simple with the cover, and shoot approach to them that tend to make gunfights boring. Benny Chan tries to remedies these by having bullets piercing make sparks fly when in contact with anything, and makes explosive look a lot more deadly than they actually are. One example involves a shootout at a port, and the films villain throw a grenade at some police officers shooting at him. This grenade is point blank next to some officers, and yet when the grenade explodes, the police officer don’t blow up into pieces, nor do they seem harmed by it. Other gunfights aren’t as silly, though the lack of creativity are consistent in them all. Like the one where Simon Yam simply goes to a warehouse, and kills a dozen men simply flailing around the guns he’s dual wielding instead of incorporating anything that would make Yam looks like an expert gunmen. Doesn’t even bother to dodge, or duck while being shot at either. Sure, I’ll buy every bullets miss hitting Simon Yam in this warehouse shootout, but he’s capable of much more. Same with Benny Chan when it comes to filming action sequences. Only thing left to comment on is the music is not effectively used during the romantic scenes giving the vibe of a cheesy romance drama. Music during everything else is fine if unremarkable.
Man Wanted doesn’t stand out in any special way. If it wasn’t for the fact it starred Simon Yam, and was directed by Benny Chan I would have definitely would have given this a missed. As an actor, Simon Yam has appear in better action films, and the stuff here doesn’t make use of his commitment as a actor. Having Yam perform more simplistic fight scenes, and gunfights than what he usually does. Benny Chan as a director knows how to space action sequences in his story, and understands what makes good pacing. Unfortunately, this film shows even he who occasionally make films better than they should be can’t make up for all it shortcomings. As hard as the whole production tried, it still came out average.