Special ID AKA Dak Siu San Fan - Donnie Yen (2013) Review
Action Choreography75%
  • Good fight scenes.
  • Really bad story and script.
53%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (4 Votes)

‘Special ID’ has a very big problem: the story of its making (a boring ego-driven tour de force between movie makers and movie stars that crippled the final product) is better than the story within the movie itself. That’s tough, as Mr. Yen’s fans eagerly hoped ‘Special ID’ to be Donnie‘s triumphant return to contemporary rough and dirty MMA-style brawling films after his 6 years ‘classic-fu’ hiatus (that fortunately left gems like ‘Wu Xia’ for us to enjoy). Don’t get me wrong: the movie has good fighting scenes that, although not quite as good as the ones in ‘Flashpoint’, are far from disappointing. Oh, and a fairly impressive car chase. But that’s about it. Almost everything else looks like a sample book of patches covering up the holes left by an erratic and troubled production.

Donnie can smoke and grow a moustache. Maybe he shouldn't do neither, but he can.

Donnie can smoke and grow a moustache. Maybe he shouldn’t do neither, but he can.

The first to fall off the film was Vincent Zhao, a popular film and TV action star. He didn’t like the numerous on-set changes to the script (the mere existence of which aren’t already a good sign) when the project title was ‘Ultimate Codebreak’. The fact that the final cut of ‘Special ID’ has no code breaking at all gives us an idea about how much the story ended up changing. As a writer, I know very well that writing is re-writing. But maybe, just maybe, the actual shooting phase of the production isn’t the best moment to introduce big changes in the script. OK, Coppola gets away with it… but Mr. Fok doesn’t.

Need to cut your film budget? Get two action flick "musts" in one: fighting in the rain and against many.

Need to cut your film budget? Get two action flick “musts” in one: fighting in the rain and against many.

Which brings us to the second big crisis: original director and writer Tan Bing also dropped from the production alleging contract breaching and story stealing by Mr. Yen himself (also a producer). Clarence Fok is then summoned to replace Mr. Bing and try to mend the already fragmented project. Given the circumstances, the fact that the movie just exists is somewhat surprising; the fact that it manage little more than just existing doesn’t. I’m tempted to excuse the final product pointing at all the difficulties the production had to endure (including mainland China bureaucracy), but the process is just relevant to the artist and maybe artist wannabes, not to the audience, that should witness only results, not having to dig for merit. Also, I’m sure that many of the problems derived from improvable attitudes from all involved, as it wasn’t accidental but relational mishaps. With so much experience behind all of them, they should have managed all that disagreements way better than they did.

Making geometry appealing: kids, this is a (little loose) triangle choke.

Making geometry appealing: kids, this is a (little loose) triangle choke.

The result, as you can expect, is a gammy, tone-inconsistent, cliche-abusing, utterly forgettable story with three good fighting scenes… and a car chase. Are them enough reason to watch it? Yes, specially since the invention of the ‘fast-forward’ feature of video players. Because maybe Mr. Yen couldn’t achieve a smooth film development as a producer, but he definitely knows how to design, shoot and perform fighting scenes. Following up his pioneer inclusion of modern grappling techniques in action scenes, he continues departing from the clean-cut technique-by-technique choreographies of yore, even incorporating some confusing rolling-on-the-floor skirmishes in which not even the characters know exactly what they’re doing. Donnie Yen puts a little bit of chaos in the too artificial order of standard filmic kung-fu, making the action scenes a better conduit for emotions than any other element in the movie.



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4 Responses

    • Xino

      I think everyone who watched this movie did not like it!
      i had the highest of hope for this movie!
      I had to avoid many of the trailers and even close my eyes when I see a fight scene in some of the trailers, because I don’t want to spoil myself and I want the fight scenes to surprise me.

      i just hate the tonning of the movie, it’s like it just cannot be taken seriously. And I hate the character presentation of Donnie Yen. THe movie is a complete huge mess!

      I’m not impressed with Donnie latest movies so far. The best are Ip Mans and Flashpoint

      • Tiger333

        Yeah unfortunately you are right on all counts.

        This was frankly a PISS POOR movie and i dont understand why Donnie would do this at all.

        Everything about it just felt wrong!!!!

        Apart from Wu Xia the last few Donnie movies have been really bad :-(

      • Xino

        it is not about why Donnie would do it.
        it is the history behind the movie.
        The whole Vincent Zhao thing.

        He got annoyed because the story/script kept being changed. And I won’t be surprise from what we’ve seen is the result of the script being changed many times. Then it would prove Vincent was right.

        Then allegations and insults about Special ID crew, Donnie Yen and Vincent broke out into a fight.

        This movie was pure mess, I think the problem was due to the reason of the Special ID crew changing the damn story all the time.
        I hate this movie man.

        bad character development, Donnie Yen’s character does not even fit right, pointless assassin wearing a hat. Weak plots and story.
        The fighting which is the meat of the movie was not as amazing as Flashpoint.

        comparing flashpoint, you know “this fight is serious”. But in this movie you just can’t take anything seriously. To put it frankly, Special ID is the PG version of Flashpoint.

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