Much in the same reign as Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat and Jet Li, Donnie Yen action roles are arguably his most popular. Although when compare to the previous three most of Yen earlier starring efforts don’t pack the same punch. Yen’s latest sadly falls in that category whenever having to endure a muddle story before getting to the goods.
Special ID is about a cop and his team of comrades going undercover in one of China’s most ruthless underworld organizations to stop a gang leader. The premise and narrative beats are standard action film affairs without a change in formula; you have the undercover cop who’s been on the inside for too long, undercover cop running the risk of criminals discovering his identity, protagonist not getting along with his partners, the superior officers who uses protagonist life for his own means, and by the end protagonist attempting to fulfill a personal vendetta. For a film that hardly strays away from familiar territory making sense of it all is more difficult than needed to be. Its plot is easy to understand, but distorted plot points never connected with one another in a seamless flow. A love interest for example is hardly touched upon even though scenes are entirely dedicated to hinting at it. Nothing ever becomes at the hinted romance providing moments of character development with the interaction contributing little. Another noticeable issue comes in the directionless writing. Tones drastically change on the spot from becoming a gritty action film to feeling like a rom-com at a moments notice. Characters like the plot itself are easy to understand, but the muddle story makes it needlessly difficult decipher. You’ll have an understanding of the relationships, the characters, motivations, but even with a clear understanding muddle storytelling prevents any worthwhile investment to be made. This film never manages to find its own identity at the end coming off as a collection of several scripts each being drastically different each in their own muddle way.
Donnie Yen is comical and naughty rascal-like acting in the film is passable, but for the emotional side of his character he doesn’t cut it. A weak script is blame as Yen does his best with heartless dramatic scenes. When it comes to Yen fight choreography it appears brutal, but doesn’t get across that feel of brutality. Every fight is restricted to being in a close a quarter and even when the action is taken outside of a building it plays strictly by the rules. Yen is the only actor who uses MMA techniques while the rest of his cast are kickboxers. This eliminates the tensity in fight scenes as Yen opponents have no idea how to counter his MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques. Even in the first few minutes of the film even though Donnie Yen literally fights crawling around the floor his opponent does not know how to counter Yen moves. The only time it mixes fighting techniques is during Yen fight with Andy On. Andy On using primarily Muay Thai and variation of several others fighting styles offered more elaborate choreography. Only when On fights against Donnie Yen do the fight scenes deliver on its brutality. Action scenes don’t have the wow factor though they are well staged that provide the film the much needed energy. As for Andy On acting it’s solid selling the idea he could go toe to toe with Donnie Yen. Jing Tian provides a pretty face and impresses with her agility and flexibility. Tian might be small, but her move set makes her believable and the film climactic action scene sells her in the action role. Her acting is good genuinely the often corny and cheesy dialogue sound as good as it can.
Special ID delivers solid performances and solid action scenes, but in order to get to see those you have to endure the deadweight of a muddle and standard story. It plays by the rules in terms of narrative and action unable to find an identity of its own.