This movie is available for purchase at www.hkflix.com
Year of release: 1990
Ringo Lam is a director best known for his gritty crime dramas like City on Fire. Undeclared War was Lam's first attempt at an "international" action picture. Bolstered with a large budget and a solid cast, Lam set out to make his biggest movie ever. However, upon its' release, the film failed to please either Western or Chinese movie-goers and tanked at the box office. Even though the dismal take almost bankrupted Cinema City studios and killed Lam's career, Undeclared War holds up as an entertaining movie and one of the better Eastern/Western hybrids the US or Hong Kong has cranked out.
Undeclared War uses the age-old plot device of the mismatched "buddy" cops. This time out, it's Danny Lee (yes, contain your shock, he's once again playing a cop) and Peter Lapis (an actor whose only other role of note before this was a guest shot on "Hunter"). The guys are both trying to catch a terrorist named Hannibal (played by Vernon Wells, who went on to star in such classics as Sexual Response, Manosaurus and, of course, Power Rangers Time Force) who has started bombing areas around Hong Kong. I'm sure you can see the big plot "twist" a mile away -- Danny and Peter hate each other in the beginning, but end up teaming together to bring down Hannibal once and for all.
As you might guess from the plot, Undeclared War is almost night and day when compared most of Lam's earlier work like Prison on Fire. Even though the movie presents itself as a serious thriller in the vein of the Tom Clancy films like Clear and Present Danger, there's a lot of humor -- both intentional and, unfortunately, unintentional. For example, in one of the opening scenes, a group of terrorists (complete with sunglasses and five o' clock shadows) dress up as nuns to do an assassination. It's absurd -- almost Wong Jing-esque -- and leaves the viewer to wonder how "serious" this movie is supposed to be, especially since each bullet hit seems to draw forth a fountain of bloody mist.
Despite the inherent cheesiness of Undeclared War (which includes some very bad acting, though Danny Lee does a good job in a role where he predominately speaks English) it still manages to gel together into something interesting. The action (over-the-top as it may be, especially in this type of movie) is done well -- one definitely sees the beginnings of Lam's firefights in Full Contact here -- and the movie moves along at a good enough clip so that the shortcomings don't have too much time to sink into the viewer's mind. Flawed as it may be, Undeclared War delivers the goods for fans of Hong Kong gunplay, but those wanting a little more substance with their movie viewing will probably end up feeling a bit shafted.