Action comedies can be something of a tough sell, as there's a fine line between a funny action movie and a comedy with some action in it; too much of one element or the other can make the tone of the film feel completely off. Generally speaking, action fans want the action-y bits to seem like they matter – both to the plot and to the character – while comedy fans generally want something more than silly sound effects attached to the fisticuffs that are somehow intended to bridge the gap between the two film styles. Now, you'd think that merging these two genres would be easy to do; it was more or less successful (financially speaking, at least) with the 'Rush Hour' films (with the exception of 'Rush Hour 3,' perhaps), as well as plenty other flicks both starring and not starring Jackie Chan in the last twenty years, or so. And yet, despite this, there are still complete and utter failures like 'Badges of Fury,' starring Wen Zhang and (sometimes) Jet Li in a zany, madcap action romp that's so misguided, disorganized, and incoherent it introduces and discards inane, half-baked plotlines like some desperate screenwriter in the last pitch meeting of his career.
The film begins with a series of what is intended to be humorous accidental deaths, as all the decedents die with a silly grin on their face. There's an actor, a professional diver (as in high dive), and a ballroom dancer, who all perish in ridiculous fashion (although the diver does land safely in the water, so it's unclear how his death is supposed to be humorous), but leave a smiling corpse, which the media dubs the "Smile Murders," even though there's no immediate sign of foul play surrounding the victims. As in most murder cases, the list of likely suspects begins with any overlap with regard to the victims' known associates, which in this case points the police directly toward up-and-coming actress Liu Jinshui – considering she had recently been involved with in romantic relationships with the victims prior to their alleged murder. Once a fourth victim is found embedded in a block of concrete with the signature smile on his face, Liu Jinshui becomes suspect no. 1.
As ridiculous as it is, the case of the "Smile Murders" is probably enough for any movie – comedy or otherwise – to make something out of, and yet, for some reason, 'Badges of Fury' decides it needs at least five more plotlines that are only loosely related to the bizarre murders that serve to set the film in motion. For whatever reason, the police assign three detectives: the borderline incompetent Wang Bu'er (Wen Zhang), his female superior Angela (Michelle Chen), and the grizzled, ready-to-retire veteran Huang Feihong (Li) to interrogate and later follow Ms. Jinshui to get to the bottom of these unusual deaths. Before that happens, though, there's an introductory segment that pits the three against a crime lord named Chen Hu (Collin Chou, 'The Matrix Reloaded'), which puts Det. Wang undercover in a miniskirt, while Feihong is working (leisurely) in a restaurant kitchen. There's a nice chase sequence and martial arts battle between Hu and Feihong that sets the tone for the movie with sound effects lifted straight from an old 'Looney Tunes' cartoon, and the physics to match, but the entire Chen Hu plotline is never even mentioned again.
The physics thing is fine; if that's the kind of movie 'Badges of Fury' wants to be, there's no reason it shouldn't include live action versions of falling victim to the sort of antics that normally befall Wile E. Coyote – but there should also be something behind that element like, say, actual humor. It's hard to say who thought hearing the sound of screeching tires as Jet Li tries to stop a jump kick in mid air would be funny, but perhaps we'll just chalk that up to one of the many mysteries of the film.
In that regard, the other mysteries would almost certainly include the underdeveloped plotlines concerning Wang's attraction to Liu Jinshui, and Angela's clear attraction to Wang, as well as the introduction of Liu's bosomy, boyfriend thieving, life insurance claiming sister, Dai Yiyi (Yan Liu), and why Jet Li suddenly disappears for twenty minutes at a time, only to magically reappear whenever someone needs an ass kicking. There's also the mystery of the supposed curse Dai Yiyi placed on Liu's lovelife (complete with skull emanating out of storm clouds – just like in 'Harry Potter'!), the dart blowing male nurse of Liu's paralyzed uncle, and whatever dark secret the uncle has hidden away. Frankly, none of it makes much sense, as the importance of the characters seems to ebb and flow with the needs of the scene, so one minute Liu Jinshui is concerned her sister has placed a deadly curse on her and her boyfriends, and then next Det. Wang is daydreaming about an extended courtyard fight with some elderly men who can't stop ogling Dai Yiyi and prominent assets.
To the film's credit, there are some interesting martial arts sequences, which might be enough of a reason for some to watch, but if we're being honest, most of them fail to find a compelling reason to take place and typically involve characters that have never been seen before, and will never be seen again, offering all the fisticuffs little in the way of significance or weight. The showpiece battle at the film's conclusion between Li and a semi-prominent character (no, it's not Li against himself), who surprisingly turns out to be an evil jewel thief responsible for a decades-old crime that's only mentioned seconds before his dramatic reveal is centered on such an. turn of events, and a fight that suddenly includes super-powers, takes a turn so far into the absurd that the last 10 minutes are from another Jet Li film.
In the end, 'Badges of Fury' lacks not only humor, but it also lacks a cohesive plot or convincing reason for any of these characters to interact with one another. The film just simply doesn't make any sense at all – a fact that even its cartoon-like aspirations fail to explain away. And because of this, as well as a refusal to stick to even its own made-up rules, almost all of the jokes fall completely flat, or feel like they belong in a different movie altogether. Which is hopefully a feeling these actors had upon seeing the final product.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Badges of Fury' comes from Well Go Entertainment USA as a 25GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. There are a handful of previews available before the top menu here, but they can all be skipped to head directly to the menu. Once there, you can choose from a variety of audio settings, the special features, or to watch the very previews you just skipped.
As with most releases from Well Go, 'Badges of Fury' comes with a nearly pristine 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that is bright, detailed, and filled with vivid colors. The image does a tremendous job of keeping the image clear and filled with fine detail that reveals plenty of facial features, as well as textures and environmental details that help to make the film's setting feel more fully realized. The only time the image tends to look soft, or indistinct is when the film's shoddy special effects are used, and the (again) cartoony imagery takes away from what is otherwise a very detailed image.
Contrast is typically very high in the image as well, but there are moments in low light when the blacks look a little grayer than the should, and this lack of deep, robust black can sometimes eat into the fine detail. Thankfully, this isn't a problem during daytime scenes or sequences with a great deal of lighting, as this typically looks quite good and seems to be when the image shines (no pun intended) the most.
Overall, this is a nice looking image that has a few issues with contrast and with the film's use of sub-standard VFX work, but for the most part, it gets the job done when it comes time to deliver.
The Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on the disc managed to give action fans the kind of dynamic sound field they typically crave. There is some terrific extension throughout all the channels that generates a very nice immersive atmosphere, and works to create several fully realized action sequences that sound a lot better and far more exciting than they look. The imaging and directionality that is presented here is top notch, following the camera and character movement with terrific precision.
The mix here is fairly evenly distributed between the front/center speaker and the rear channels. There's even some hefty LFE thrown in for good measure, which creates rich, deep bass really adds a nice extra dimension to some of the fight sequences, explosions, and occasional instances of gunfire. It's a diverse sounding mix that appreciates precision over bombast – even though there's plenty of that to go around.
'Badges of Fury' could have been an opportunity to show another side to Jet Li, and while it certainly demonstrates he's an actor who is willing to poke fun at himself (primarily through referencing his past successes), it's just too incoherent, slapdash, and tragically unfunny to be of much use to anyone. If you're dying to see Jet Li in a comedy, then this might be of some interest to you, and the terrific sound and picture won't hurt either. There are some mildly interesting special features here as well, so if you're hurting for something to rent, this might make the grade. Otherwise steer clear of this comedy dud.