Usually my posts are made under my Facebook log-in: Hanajun Chung, but due to some sign-in error, I'm temporarily blogging with a newly registered id.
Square-Enix's SLEEPING DOGS feels like a game made especially for people like me. Since the very first teaser released late-2009 involving a foot-chase in Hong Kong's inner city – while still under Activision's title TRUE CRIME: HONG KONG – the thought of being those iconic action characters played by Chow Yung-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, or Andy Lau was just next level awesome for a fan of the Hong Kong action genre. After a year or two of possibly teasing post-postponement and even cancellation, it seemed like a lost cause. Many were ready to give up.
Square-Enix, known for producing the FINAL FANTASY games, picked up the unfinished product, ultimately retitling it as SLEEPING DOGS. Since that initial teaser, Square-Enix has promoted the game through various gaming conventions and media news outlets, specifically with behind-the-scenes footage featuring ambitious gameplay elements, story tease, and the voice talent for characters. In preparation for it's release in two weeks (August 14, 2012), I've gone back and re-watched some movies that could fall under the developer's claim regarding inspiration from the genre's films. For people who still need a bit more convincing, here are some of my favorite Hong Kong films to put me in the right mindset for SLEEPING DOGS.
Story The basic story behind SLEEPING DOGS will have players in the role of undercover cop Wei She and the struggles dealing with the job infiltrating the large and dangerous Triad criminal organization. This plot is nothing new in the genre, but there are certain films that choose to focus mainly on the struggle of being undercover in the Hong Kong criminal underworld.
From THE STOOL PIGEON. Officer Don on left, Ghost on right
Infernal Affairs – (dir. Alan Mak and Wai-keung Lau, 2002) If you've seen Martin Scorsese's Oscar-Winning film The Departed, then you know the basic set-up of Infernal Affairs: Cops and Criminals each have planted a mole in the opposite's respective organization. Story beats with Scorsese's film are similar in many ways, but Infernal Affairs has a slickness and pacing to it that's constantly interesting to follow, while being beautiful to watch. Without giving any spoilers, the Hong Kong original will differ in the way it handles the motivations of the protagonists, but all in all, it's just as satisfying as The Departed.
The Stool Pigeon – (dir. Dante Lam, 2010) The Stool Pigeon, also the term for a police informant, emphasizes the immense stress that comes from the fear and danger of getting caught for being deceptive. The film focuses mainly on the relationship between an informant and his handler. Ghost is an ex-convict who reluctantly agrees to Officer Don's request as acting as an informant for a barbaric criminal organization. Their pairing is questionable, since Don has failed previous informants, while Ghost is only there until he can rescue his sister from a life of prostitution. This film is truly a thriller throughout, until an action-packed machete-filled third act that is both intense and engaging. Judging by the trailer for SLEEPING DOGS, Wei Shen and players will go through similar emotional pressures.
Gunplay The trailers feature Wei Shen taking cover and singlehandedly shooting his way through numerous thugs and henchmen. Hong Kong cinema features some of the most innovative and creatively shot shootouts that have inspired both films and video games, as well as spawn imitators of the style.
The classic still/image of CHOW Yun-Fat in the Teahouse sequence from HARD BOILED
The Killer – (dir. John Woo, 1989) This is one of the few entries from filmmaker John Woo's filmography that started the “Gun Ballet” or “Gun-Fu” sub-genre. The story follows CHOW Yun-Fat as an assassin who fights back at his employers after having been betrayed during his “last job.” There are some gracefully executed action scenes within a pretty melodramatic storyline that lead up to a stylistically bombastic finale set in a church. I will admit, some moments will play as cheesy for modern audiences, but none can deny the film that showcased what Woo was capable of with filming and presenting action. I honestly think The Killer was just another step towards for what I consider as Chow and Yoo's best collaboration.
Hard Boiled – (dir. John Woo, 1992) This is the film that perfected the elements from films such as The Killer, A Better Tomorrow I & II, and City on Fire. CHOW Yun-Fat plays Detective Tequila, whose fearless and by-his-own-rules nature will take on waves of gun-wielding criminals and gangsters through various locales. The set-pieces are some of the best and iconic of the genre. Just thinking about it, it's hard to pick a favorite between all the locations, because each are designed and presented differently in service to the story. While this isn't the originator of the dual-wielding gunman, it sure perfected it, with Chow's finesse making it seem easy. The plot itself is actually similar to SLEEPING DOGS, but to say more would spoil some elements of the characters and story. Recently, Woo directed the sequel for this film entitled STRANGLEHOLD, but as a high-profile game release instead of a feature. The game was dumb fun, but this title and many others would not have been possible if it weren't for the seminal Hard Boiled.
Chase Sequences This is where I'll somewhat cheat and combine two elements from the game. Other than the foot chase missions, SLEEPING DOGS will feature some fantastical driving elements, specifically in the shooting and carjacking. I don't immediately recall a film that exactly emulates the carjacking from the game, but that doesn't mean similar stunts don't exist. In fact, like CHOW Yun-Fat with Gun-Fu, one specific international action icon from Hong Kong comes to mind.
Michelle Yeoh hopping cars in SUPERCOP like Wei Shen in the upcoming game
Police Story – (dir. Jackie Chan, 1985) Fans of cinema in general are familiar with the talents of Jackie Chan. Even at his current age, he's doing some of the most audacious and ambitious stunt work that most men his age wouldn't even consider. But during his prime, the man was constantly challenging himself and audiences with stunts that thrill even when viewed today. Police Story is a film from that era that features Chan as a cop (also named Chan), whose body is put to the test in his quest to clear his wrongfully accused name. The one big chase sequence in this film is breathtaking when Chan is behind the wheel, reaching hair-raising levels of awesome when he's resorted to continue on foot. “If he looses his grip...” is a constant thought comes to mind during that scene, thrilling the audience though simultaneous worry and excitement. The climax - which takes place in a mall - just hurts to watch as Chan will bust through stores, glass panels, and lights in order to catch his guy. It's tenacity taken to bone-crushing levels.
Supercop/Police Story III – (dir. Stanley Tong, 1992) While this is a co-starring feature with the beautiful Michelle Yeoh, Chan still does his signature action to almost absurd levels. The third installment of the Police Story series finds Chan's character with the garnered reputation, earning the moniker "Supercop." The story teams Chan with Yeoh's Interpol agent character in busting a Chinese drug lord. The film has an awesome car chase scene that is reminiscent of Gene Hackman's scene from The French Connection, but it's the climactic chase that switches between foot, car, train, and even air that really wows audiences. And I haven't even touched on the martial arts. Watch the film, and then the bloopers. Ouch.
Martial-Arts Much like TRUE CRIME: STREETS OF LA (never played the 2nd installment), SLEEPING DOGS will feature martial-arts within a contemporary crime setting, allowing players to train and level-up their hand-to-hand abilities for the fighting missions apart from the shootouts and chases. Films showing martial-arts within a contemporary, gun-filled universe are tricky to convey convincingly without making the lead seem almost super-powered or making the villains seem absolutely clueless. Nonetheless, there are recent examples in which the martial-arts is so well-done that the previously mentioned dilemma takes a backseat to some awesome Hong Kong fight sequences.
Donnie Yen in Flashpoint. Nuff' said.
SPL: Killzone – (dir. Wilson Yip, 2005) Yip's 2005 film is significant in that it features the past, present, and future of martial-arts cinema within the Hong Kong industry. Donnie Yen plays martial-arts expert/cop named Ma who simultaneously assists and suspects his new team of officers in their methods towards convicting a criminal lord named Wong-Po, played by genre legend Sammo Hung. Fans of the recent Ip Man films know that Yen and Hung have the talent and training that's convincing on-screen, but this 2005 gem has Yen incorporating some grappling and MMA elements that are reminiscent of SLEEPING DOGS' environmental takedown specials. Hung, being in his early 50's during shooting, uses a double for the more demanding scenes, but the man still has talent when it's him. The film also features a young, up-and-coming star by the name of Wu Jing, who is deviously visceral and energetic as Hung's top assassin and henchmen. Whether Yen fights Hung or Jing, it's just simply awesome.
Flashpoint – (dir. Wilson Yip, 2007) Of all the films on the list, Flashpoint seems to be the film that encompasses most of the elements of SLEEPING DOGS in a truly contemporary light. The story involves Yen as a cop who is involved in an undercover plot with his partner played by Louis Koo. There are intense shootouts, frantic foot chases, and features Yen in some of the most badass, kinetic and brutal fight sequences recently seen in cinema. The punches, kicks, takedowns, and chokes will leave you breathless, especially during the final scene with Collin Chou's formidable villain (fans will recognize Chou as Ghost from The Matrix sequels and game). Simply put, Yen is just a bad ass mother fucker. Yeah.
I know there are many great films to choose from, but these are the films I watched (and will watch again) to get myself ready for SLEEPING DOGS. Feel free to include your own suggestions.