Thursday, August 30, 2012

Short Film Review: Live Action "Sleeping Dogs" Fight Film

Wei Shen (Xin Sareth Yuku) is a cop working deep cover in Hong Kong’s seedy underworld.  As part of his dangerous assignment, he’s been working as hired muscle for Tong (Michael Lehr).  One evening, the two meet up at Tong’s restaurant hideout.  During their meeting, Wei belligerently tenders his resignation, effective immediately.  A fight between the two men ensues, and quickly becomes an all-out brawl upon the arrival of Tong’s security force. As Wei fights for his life, Tong makes a hasty retreat.  Despite facing insurmountable odds, Wei maintains pursuit.  No matter the obstacles, he will have his revenge.   

The Live Action "Sleeping Dogs" Fight Film is a short film based on the video game Sleeping Dogs. It was done in conjunction with video game developer Square Unix.  In bringing their ultra-violent property to life on the small screen, Square Unix allowed director Clinton Jones a fairly free hand. Jones does his benefactors proud by applying such privileges responsibly.  Though Sleeping Dogs often seems completely out of control, there is a clear yet understated method to the madness on display.  Everything operates according to a very explicit floor plan.  

Sleeping Dogs the video game begins as an exercise in atmospherics.  The introductory cut-scenes efficiently lay out the story and establish the proper mood.  Once the preliminaries are neatly out of the way, it violently thrusts the player head first into the action.  Clinton Jones attempts something similar, going abruptly from a seemingly mundane dialogue exchange to a brutal fight scene.  The story is but an excuse for pugilistic pyrotechnics, and Jones makes no apologies for that.  The line deliveries telegraph the film’s intent.  The viewer is not meant to focus on the nuances of the acting, but to revel in the ensuing bloodbath.  

The fight choreography exudes the energy of hyper-active child.  Once it gets going, there’s no stopping it.  The fracas starts in Tong’s office, and then calamitously stumbles from one room of his restaurant stronghold to the next.  It shifts between various speeds, slowing down and even stopping at unexpected moments.  Amazingly, such pauses never truly interfere with its steadily building momentum.  

The frustrated energy exuded by the film is enhanced by the cinematography, also by director Clinton Jones.  The camera splits the difference between medium and relatively wide shots.  It’s vantage point is close enough to pull the viewer into the action, but not so much that the onscreen activity becomes obscured.  The furious melee constantly threatens to break free of its letterboxed prison cell.  The effect is sort of like a comic book in which the actions of the characters break free of the panels, spilling out onto the white borders.  

The film gradually ramps up the violence.  During the ending confrontation in the back alley, it intentionally jumps the proverbial rails into the realm of splatter film humor.  The final kill goes for a rather cartoonish brand of self-parody.  Though it seems to come out of left field, it’s actually right in line with the film’s natural progression.  It also plays as something of a release valve.    

To a degree, Sleeping Dogs recalls the early Shaw Brothers classics of Chang Cheh, particularly crime films such as Vengeance. Those films laid the groundwork for the “Heroic Bloodshed” subgenre of Hong Kong action cinema, which in turn inspired video games such as Sleeping Dogs.  While this short film doesn’t attempt that sort of operatic grandeur, its brand of stylized bloodletting proves equally cathartic.

Sleeping Dogs is a short film that begs to be expanded into something much larger.  If not a full length feature, than perhaps an ongoing series of self-contained action vignettes.  It could be a “Hong Kong Noir” version of the old adventure serials.  I’d gladly pay for content like this, or at least donate a few dollars to a kickstarter program.  True talent should be rewarded.  It’s been a long time since a short film has had me this giddy.

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