Kung fu carfights, nothing less!
In a special police squad, a hot-headed rookie (Shawn Yue) & a soon-to-be-retired cop (Anthony Wong) are teaming up to chase a convicted driver…
Motorway is the second collaboration between Johnnie To, as a producer, and young filmmaker Soi Cheang. Their first work together was the psycho-drama Accident, in 2009, which was clearly influenced by To, as it was quite atmospheric, far from Cheang’s usual fury. Telling the story of a paranoid man, obsessed with controlling people’s life.
Another project, and yet another intriguing concept! The idea here is the make a car chase movie, influenced by martial arts. Now, it must be known that the production has been complicated, the film was shot in summer 2010, but it was only officially released two years later… What happened? Unsatisfying editing results, need of re-shoots…
THE WAY OF SIMPLICITY
The story is basic and simple, creating a disciple-master relation between two cops. One is overconfident & egoist, the other is older & haunted by his past. And this relation really takes form when the outlaw driver appears.
In other words, Motorway follows the training of a young cop to really know how to drive cars. With the basic steps; understanding he’s no God–early in the story, his arrogance cost him the keys of the cop racing car; learning the special skills/techniques–drifting like a boss; and learning the essence of driving–the power of instinct.
EVERY HERO NEEDS A VILLAIN
Unfortunately, Motorway delivers an unbalanced/one-sided story & character development (poor useless female leads). Especially with the bad guy. Beyond his driving skills, he’s literally a shadow (of the road). That also means, it’s a shallow character with no charisma, no empathy attached. Whatever he does, it’s not (emotionally) interesting. With no real bad guy, no conflict, no threat to stop/catch, the narrative lacks balance & drama, and thus, car chase scenes aren’t involving. FYI, the film has plenty of action sequences!
The character itself isn’t interesting, but his skills are amazing. Visually speaking, it allows the director to create some really nice ideas like; adding martial arts strategy to the car chase scenes; turning cars into old-fashioned weapons that can be perfectly controlled by masters, who know all the little tricks. Who know how to avoid obstacles, to drive into small alleys, to disappear and play with the visibility/light (see the parking lot scene!).
THE SILENCE OF THE NIGHT
The film looks astonishing, with beautiful shots of Hong Kong, a great cinematography, some nice lighting effects. Motorway is an atmospheric slow-paced movie. But, it is incredibly dull.
The 80s influenced soundtrack (preview here) doesn’t bring a fresh dynamic to the story–it’s not Drive for example. On the contrary, the music goes almost unnoticed, it’s way too subtle. The film has many silent scenes, reinforcing the moody aspect, but also uses the sound of motors. Obviously, the car is more than an object here. And thus overall, the car chase scenes are surprisingly flat, with no tempo, no dramatic tension or thrills, making even more obvious the thinness of the story.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Motorway is only half-convincing. It has an original concept where driving becomes a martial art, plus great car chase scenes ideas. But, on the other hand, the execution lacks dynamic/rage, the story is unbalanced, with a thin plot, even though it was simple enough to be efficient, the action scenes are beautiful & numerous, but not involving–including some continuity/clarity issues. Time for Soi Cheang to get away from the influence of Johnnie To, the producer? — Average.
Title pic from Ding Yuin Shan – full set.