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The Rougher Sex: Zhao Wei plays a stylish assassin in 'So Close.'

High Heels

Corey Yuen delivers vintage Hong Kong martial arts mayhem in 'So Close'

By Richard von Busack

IF Charlie's Angels had been made by a love-struck Hong Kong film director instead of a bank of malevolent supercomputers calling themselves "McG," So Close might be something like the results. The film delivers vintage Hong Kong mayhem, but it runs on a heart of pure molten caramel. At the opening, a woman calling herself the Computer Angel assaults a skyscraper. The so-called Angel is Lynn (Shu Qi), who carries out a clever assassination on the evil plutocrat Mr. Chow, with the help of a few gadgets: special go-go boots with 4 1/2-inch piton heels and sunglasses with a concealed radio-activated cyanide-gas pack.

But Lynn's signature weapon of mass destruction is a recording of the Carpenters' musical chunderpump "Close to You." The song, if you want to call it that, is the Angel's method of clogging surveillance devices. Still, it's apparent, from the way director Corey Yuen pauses from different angles, once, twice, three times, to observe the slo-mo whipping of Shu Qi's hair as she struts down the halls, that he's got a severe case of Wong Kar-Wai wistfulness. "Close to You" persists through the movie, in the same way "California Dreaming" kept turning up in Chungking Express.

Lynn shares an apartment with her wide-eyed, pesky sister, who persists in schoolgirlish tricks like trying to steal Lynn's bath towel, to photograph her naked. Sue (Zhao Wei) is a computer expert, the master of the family heirloom--the World Panorama system that can observe anyone at any time, like the eye of God. Using this system, Sue keeps an eye on the homicide director investigating the Chow hit. The girl develops a serious online crush. The cop--Kong Yat Hong, played by the wiry yet chipmunk-cute Karen Mok--also develops a more serious interest in Sue than duty requires. Before they can sort the attraction out, they have to fight off small armies of gunmen. They all end up in a gun-to-the-face standoff choreographed with the intricacy of a contra dance.

A half-hour of police-procedural material gums up the works, including a nowhere subplot about a retired spy called the Secret King. And the film relies on unawesome Matrixy digital trickery (like the gravity-defying effects that used to be achieved with wire work alone). Still, the action sequences are up to the highest standards of the Hong Kong martial arts film. American movies have hired the actors and the fight choreographers, but they've neglected the Hong Kong movie's traditional insistence that the emotional state of the warriors is as important to observe as their fighting style. Though there's noting wrong with the fighting style in So Close, which climaxes in a brutally simple three-sided samurai-sword fight which is all the good old stuff: furniture splintering, thrusting, parrying, hair whipping.

So Close (R; 107 min.), directed by Corey Yuen, written by Jeff Lau, photographed by Keung Kwok Man and starring Shu Qi, Zhao Wei and Seoung-Heon Song, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the September 11-17, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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