Since it’s a Hong Kong martial arts film that delivers exactly what it promises — nothing less, nothing more — the success of Clarence Fok Yiu-leung’s Special ID will rest exclusively on its viewers’ tastes.
Few will be converted to appreciating the genre by its wispy characters and semi-incoherent storyline, but fans will find their expectations perfunctorily met. Insanely dangerous stunts? Check. Obnoxious evil baddie? Check. Intricately choreographed fight sequences that are the film’s raison d’être? Check, check, check.
The storyline enabling the action involves an undercover cop, Chan Chi-lung (Donnie Yen), who must bring down Sunny (Andy On), an underworld figure he has befriended.
Naturally, there’s a pretty young cop working the case with Chan, Fang (Jing Tian), and, perhaps less naturally, plenty of appearances by Chan’s mother (Paw Hee-ching), whom he dotes on. Chan’s a sweet guy, but Yen has been hired for his phenomenal martial arts skills, not his acting chops.
All the performers are supremely entertaining while dealing or defying horrible deaths (one incredible sequence has Fang hanging from a speeding car, with no discernible VFX), but Yen unfortunately lacks the kind of charisma that can elevate a genre film to a higher level of satisfaction.
Without that human element, Special ID becomes a waiting game between action sequences, with heaps of expository dialogue illuminating a relatively complex — and entirely uninteresting — plot of underworld dealings.
Regardless, for fans of the genre, this waiting game is one that will be tolerated happily.