Canadian film-Maker Bruce Fontaine cut his action movie making teeth in the world of Hong Kong Action Cinema, battling the likes of Jackie Chan in Operation Condor, Stephen Chow and Jackie Cheung in Curry & Pepper and Billy Blanks in King of the Kickboxers before then returning to Canada to work in front and behind the camera as a stuntman, choreographer and trainer on such projects as Future Sport, Blade: Trinity, Agent Cody Banks and more.
With Beyond Redemption, Fontaine makes his feature directorial debut with a cast that includes many of Canada’s top fight and stunt performers including Brian Ho (who has performed stunts in the likes of Marco Polo Season 1 and 2, Outcast, the upcoming Wolf Warrior 2 and the Sleeping Dogs video game / live action trailer), Supernatural and Kung Fu Killer‘s Osric Chau, Darren E Scott from Man with the Iron Fists and Almost Human, Linna Huynh, Tony Towe, Don Lew, Paul Wu, Johnson Phan, Vicky Huang, Patrick Sabongui, Peter Chao, The Chengman ,Leenda Dong and Hong Kong legend Eddie Ko from Johnnie To’s The Mission and John Woo’s Heroes Shed No Tears.
The premise: After successfully passing an initiation test to join the upper ranks of the Ching Tau Triad, undercover cop Billy Tong (Brian Ho) is brought in on a plan for a home invasion against a wealthy Chinese businessman that will give Billy the evidence he needs to bring down the gang and its ruthless leader, Big Brother Yuan. As plans are proceeding, Billy learns that his ex-wife is pregnant and begins questioning his career choices. Although Billy realises the need to put things right and prepare for his new family, his checkered past as a police officer complicates his decision to simply be reassigned. Things become complicated when he is forced to protect the daughter of a rival gang leader’s daughter as he learns both sides are planning to strike an important deal…
In addition to his stunt and choreography work, Fontaine has been training a lot of martial artists and stunt people, and performing and choreographing for various video game companies, and shot several solid short films and fight sequences, but this marks his feature directorial debut. And with Beyond Redemption, Fontaine stays very true to his Hong Kong action cinema roots in delivering a high octane high impact action thriller, that not only showcases the impressive physical skills of his cast but also shows he’s now slouch when it comes to the dramatic side of things.
The story riffs on ideas we’ve seen before, the undercover Cop who begins to question his loyalties and how he should behave has been seen in Infernal Affairs, City on Fire, Cop on a Mission, To Live and Die in Tsim Sha Tsui, American Yakuza and even that Sleeping Dogs video game – something the movie nods its head to more than a few times. (Brian Ho’s role on Sleeping Dogs was to serve as the main motion capture and reference for the character of Wai Sheng and appear in live action trailer, which is where I got to work with him when I produced and coordinated the Hong Kong shoot).
Beyond Redemption was shot on a small indie budget but Fontaine and his team certainly got a lot of bang and crash for their bucks – the film looks as good as many a moderate budget DTV actioner. It’s stylish and nicely put together, and delivers on the action and dramatic sides of things pretty well. Fontaine tries to deliver the best Vancouver take on a Tony Scott thriller and shows that with a little more budget and support, he could really deliver on the potential show here. Yes, perhaps the dialogue could be dialed down a little next time, as there are a few moments when it veers heavily into that “lets swear for the sake of swearing, as we’re making a gangster movie!” territory that sometimes betrays first time directors.
Leading man Brian Ho gets his biggest dramatic role to date in the film: he’s an exceptional martial artist and stuntman and its great to see him getting to deliver more a few lines and taking the hits to make somebody else the hero. He’s not quite Tony Leung-level just yet, but shows a lot of potential to become a very interesting leading man – definitely someone to watch. He’ll next be seen in action behind a mask as the double for Ludi Lin on Power Rangers and doubling Wu Jing on Wolf Warrior 2). Veteran stunt performers Don Lew and Paul Wu make the most of their villainous roles, getting a nice showcase for the skills, while Eddie Ko (who worked with Fontaine in Hong Kong on Mission Kill/Mission of Condor) gets a nice little cameo. It’s great to familiar faces like Darren E Scott and Osric Chau popping up in supporting role, and – indeed – to see so many of Vancouver’s fight and stunt community appearing throughout the film.
Fontainte directs and keeps the actors on track and the production barreling along at a good pace,. Yes there are moments here and there where a bigger budget or perhaps a more experienced hand might have seem something done differently, but its a strong debut. Despite his action chops, Fontaine let stunt veteran Andrew Chin oversee the action and its a nice sold blend of Hong Kong styled action mixed up with some very nice ground-and-pound. (Its got that late 80s/early 90s Hong Kong movie feel to the action which is always a good thing!). I do think that a few of the edits could have been a little tighter, and while its great that they didn’t overdo the action or over-indulge in the “well, let’s give everyone a showreel moment!” that sometimes affects low budget action films, But there’s a few fights here that I wish could have been given a little more time to play out.
There’s more than a few homages and nods of the head to some classic Hong Kong action and fight movies, (although sadly no Kickboxer King homage!) throughout the running time of Beyond Redemption in both the main part of the movie and the action scenes, but they’re done the right way, not remaking the entire section of the fight from classic movies that can sometimes pull you out of the story. The references here work but don’t slow down or detract from the movie.
Already picked up for international release, the film just hit North America courtesy of our friends at WellGoUSA, and hopefully there will be a UK release before too long. Beyond Redemption gets the thumbs up from Impact, it’s not perfect but its an entertaining 90 minutes, with some very nice action and a taster of what’s to come from both Fontaine and his cast, most notably Brian Ho.