Year of release: 2001
When Hong Kong film fans think about the Golden Harvest studio, high-budget fare like the latest Jackie Chan movie comes to mind. But in keeping with Hong Kong's down economy, they have been diversifying a bit and producing lower-budgeted films. While this sometimes comes up with some gems like You Shoot, I Shoot, most often the results are like this movie -- where the low budget is painfully obvious and hurts the film as a whole.
Extreme Challenge uses the tried-and-true plot of the martial arts tournament, with all the cliches (grizzled old veteran, hot-headed young guy, spunky girl, etc.) fully in place. The twist here is that the tournament, called "Power Net Show" (probably from the same people who brought you the "Super Happy Fun Ball"), is being broadcast on the internet. Well, this isn't really a twist, and doesn't even make much sense -- why would people pay money to see a "tournament" that takes several days to get through with only a few short matches a day (and bloodless matches, at that) on the internet is beyond me.
Anyway, as I said before, the plot is the usual stuff -- you're going to know from the get-go who's going to win (it's certainly not going to be the chap dressed in the Native American gear). Things might have not been so bad, but someone had the bright idea to have most of the movie made in English and then dub the whole thing. This dub is absolutely one of the worst I have ever heard, and that's saying a lot. The voices don't even match the characters; the lisping one for Ken Chang, who plays the "tough guy", is especially atrocious. Hell, a lot of times, the voices don't even match the lip movements. Combined with the lackluster set design, Extreme Challenge comes off as no better-looking than your average US B-movie. Considering that even with much lower budgets, Hong Kong movies usually at least look decent, the lackluster production of Extreme Challenge just smacks of laziness or plain incompetence.
Things are not all bad in Extreme Challenge, however. Under the direction of Stephen Tung, the fights here are compact, hard-hitting and exciting. Though it was probably more because of monetary concerns, the action is thankfully free of the overuse of CGI that has been invading HK movies as of late. There is some camera trickery at work, but it's kept in check for the most part, and allows the fights, rather than computer gimmickry, to take center stage. Though most people probably couldn't take most of the crud featured in here, die-hard fight fanatics will probably dig a viewing of Extreme Challenge, but might still want to keep their finger close to the fast-forward button.