It’s no secret the success of John McTiernan’s Die Hard led to all kinds of rip-offs, good and bad, throughout the nineties, but here is an example of the formula “man in the wrong place at the wrong moment foils bad guys in a circumscribed space” that actually hails from Hong Kong : Red Wolf, directed by martial arts supremo Yuen Woo-Ping in 1995. It stars Kenny Ho in the John McClane role of a head of security on a cruise ship who has to fight a crew of terrorists who have taken advantage of the New Year’s Eve celebrations to hijack the boat, aboard which there is a large quantity of uranium that they aim to steal.
Red Wolf doesn’t try to add anything new to the formula, only to execute it with maximum efficiency. At times this is hindered by the film’s seemingly smallish budget : for a luxury cruise liner, the film’s boat is surprisingly small, and its passengers aren’t more than a few dozens, which gives makes the film occasionally look cheap. Still, it doesn’t really matter, since it’s not far from being wall-to-wall action, each action scene choreographed to perfection in a well-judged mix of high-kicking showiness and down-to-earth brutality, shot in impossibly long takes. It’s also a very unforgiving film in that the lives of the hostage are far from being protected by family-friendly conventions : innocent people keep being killed, ramping up the tension and taking the unsuspecting spectator aback on more than one occasion.
Kenny Ho sounds like a strange choice for an action hero, and he’s not exactly a charismatic or even imposing presence, but he acquits himself surprisingly well in the fight scenes, not even paling in comparison with the excellent Collin Chou, who plays the leader of the terrorists. Still, the real hissable villain and only really memorable character is Elaine Lui as Chou’s blood-thirsty companion, who in the beginning poses as a singer. She embodies the film’s best assets : brutal action and an unforgiving spin. The very, very beautiful Christy Chung on the other, is saddled with the comic relief role of a pickpocket who assists and (unwittingly) hampers Kenny Ho’s rescue in equal parts. She gets some incredibly cringeworthy, mood-breaking scenes, like when she dons a wig and attempts a rendition of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. Seriously.
Long Story Short : Die Hard on a boat, or Speed 2 on another boat, depending on whether one is a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person, Red Wolf is unoriginal but it’s still a hard-hitting, unforgiving little action film. ***