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Silver dream racer
A region 2 DVD review of SILVER HAWK by Slarek

If you come to Jingle Ma's Silver Hawk without any foreknowledge of its content or style as I did, then you are in for a few surprises, not all of them happy ones. As the film opens, the delightful Michelle Yeoh, dressed in a silver costume that even a Power Ranger would only wear to a Halloween party, and riding a motorbike with Trigger's sense of timing and loyalty, leaps over the Great Wall of China, kick-boxes a collection of dressed-in-black villains into surrender, and saves a stolen Panda from a who-knows-what fate. The execution is lively but familiar, at least in modern martial arts terms, and the heart can't help but sink a little under the weight of 'here we go again', flavoured with the unmistakable tang of cheese. But as Yeoh stands triumphant over the defeated bad guys, her first words are of disappointment that the battle has finished so quickly and suggests that they fight for another ten minutes, which prompts the terrified mob to cower behind raised hands and hurriedly tie themselves up.

So what is going on here, exactly? I'm glad you asked. Celebrity businesswoman Lulu leads a secret life as masked crime-fighter Silver Hawk, whose activities the police are keen to curtail, presumably because she makes them look inept. Young, self-assured Detective Rich Man (for real) is charged with the task, and what do you know, it turns out he and Lulu were school friends and studied kung-fu together, though Lulu was always the better fighter and used to sort out the bullies when they hassled the young Man, much to his embarrassment. Lulu's mother, meanwhile, wants to pair Lulu off with Professor Ho Chung, the inventor of a smart new video phone, who is kidnapped by would-be world conqueror Alexander Wolfe with the intention of using the phone as a mass brainwash device. With me so far?

Based on Xiao Ping's 1940s comic book of the same name, many of the genre's usual absurdities are paraded here with a knowing wink. The super-hero's identity is concealed simply by covering part of her face, and no-one, not even her most obsessive fan, can guess who she really is, despite her picture being plastered over the cover of half of the country's glossy magazines. Wolfe, however, has only to see both pictures once to work it out (well he is an evil genius) and even Detective Man susses it well before the end, though he requires the assistance of a home computer and a graphics program. That Wolfe is bald and foreign (the only non-oriental main character) completes the picture, recalling Austin Powers' Dr. Evil, at least in appearance. Elsewhere, there is an amusing recognition of genre conventions with an inventively staged fight in which the goons are suspended on bungee ropes, providing very visible vertical assistance in a film that has its share of flying wire work, and Silver Hawk herself fights with a permanent grin on her face, battling crime not so much from a sense of social justice but because fighting crime is just such enormous fun.

If this suggests a sophisticated generic parody then I'm leading you little astray. The characterisations are, for the most part, simplistic in the extreme, the plot development is played out by thumping big numbers, and the level of narrative sophistication is….well, there isn't any. You're barely a third of the way in when you realise that this is essentially kung-fu for kids, Barbie-doll James Bond targeted at an audience who, at least in the UK, have ironically been deemed by the BBFC as being too young to see it.

All of which leaves the film a little stranded. Its fights are constructed largely in the editing and lack the brutality and style of recent standard-setter Ong-Bak, its plot and characters make the average Hollywood actioner look sophisticated, and many elements are too familiar to provide much in the way of surprise or spectacle. Which is a shame, as technically there is plenty to admire, from the steely blue sheen of the photography and the antiseptically futuristic sets and (one presumes) locations to the brisk pace and athletic skills of its acrobatic lead.

But almost all of this is effectively sabotaged by Ma's choice to shoot the film in English, doubtless with an eye on the international market. This decision is in itself not a problem, but its execution most definitely is. The dialogue is banal at best, and although voiced in English, it has obviously been re-dubbed in post, often by voice artists instead of the original performer. This results in some stark mismatches of face and voice, as a largely asian cast deliver its lines in accents ranging from 'oh gee' American to 'oh I say' English. This also plays merry hell with inflection, providing some odd moments of emphasis: "You CARRY a badge and I don't!" Lulu says to Man at one point, suggesting she does have one but keeps leaving it at home. Even Luke Goss – who helped inflict Bros on us but was rather imposing as Nomak in Blade II – appears to have re-voiced himself. All of which makes the English sound like a bad dub, rendering this move a little pointless – it's no coincidence that the best scenes are the flashbacks to the kiddie kung-fu school, which are voiced in Cantonese.

We are left with an uneven mix, with well shot and edited action, some inventive moments, and an undeniable energy undermined by simplistic characters and plotting, some overly bright-eyed acting and sometimes painful dialogue and post-production delivery. All of which makes me wonder where the film is going to find an audience in the UK.

sound and vision

Despite some hurried research I've been unable to confirm this, but I'd lay odds that the film was shot digitally on Hi-Definition, indicated by burnt-out highlights in areas of white and some detail loss in black areas, though the post-production filtering is no doubt also a contributor here. Contrast is good, if a little too strong in places (again this could be deliberate), and detail is largely pleasing, though there is a slight softness to the picture that again suggests a transfer from Hi-Def.

Of the two surround soundtracks on offer, the DTS track has the edge over the 5.1, on volume and, less obviously, dynamic range. Separation is sometimes effectively done. The LFE activity only really comes into its own in the climax, with some bum-rattling bass accompanying the inevitable explosions.

extra features

The trailer (2:09) is 2.35:1 non-anamorphic and in fine shape. Surprisingly, they've included some of that dialogue.

There's also a non-anamorphic trailer (2:41) for Panna Rittikrai's Born to Fight, which does a fair old job of selling the film and the action credentials of its stars.

Finally there is a rolling slideshow (4:28) of production stills, which are slowly zoomed in on one by one to full (anamorphic 16:9) screen, and production sketches, which disappear too quickly and will not sit bloody still on screen.


Second time around I warmed to the film's pleasures more, but with plot and characters this undeveloped, and sometimes wince-inducing dialogue and post-dubbing, it's virtually impossible to embrace the Silver Hawk with anything like open arms, at least if you're 15 or over. But I still have a sneaking admiration for any film that suggests you could take over the world by brainwashing people via their mobile phones. Give it a go – the job's already half done.

Silver Hawk

Hong Kong 2004
97 mins
Jingle Ma
Michelle Yeoh
Luke Goss
Brandon Chang
Daming Chen
Kouichi Iwaki
Bingbing Li
Richie Ren

DVD details
region 2
2.35;1 anamorphic
Dolby Surround 5.1
DTS Surround 5.1

Momentum Asia
release date
26 September 2005
review posted
26 September 2005

See all of Slarek's reviews