Don’t be fooled by the official poster for Fox Hunter : Jade Leung and Jordan Chan sitting on a bench, she in a sexy dress, playfully brandishing a gun, and he with tape on his mouth and a pair of pineapples at his feet. You might be lead to believe this is a fun caper or some kind of buddy comedy, but it is something quite different, and it certainly doesn’t contain any scene of pineapples being laid at Jordan Chan’s feet. One of the few directing efforts of prominent (though somewhat underrated) action director and martial arts choreographer Tung Wei, it is actually a straightforward chase thriller, and a first-rate one at that. It follows a modest beat cop (Jade Leung), who’s repeatedly failed the test to become a detective, but is given an opportunity for promotion: she must pass herself as a call girl to nail a dangerous drug dealer (Ching Fung), with the help of a spineless pimp (Jordan Chan). The operation is a success, but the drug dealer manages to escape, kills Jade’s uncle in retaliation and rapes her. Now revenge is all that is on her mind, and she decides to pursue him to Mainland China where he has fled. For that she enlists Jordan Chan’s help by force, and once on the Mainland she must manage to find and kill her formidable opponent, all the while stopping her reluctant sidekick from escaping and dodging the local police, headed by Yu Rong-Guang.
While he doesn’t carry the same name recognition as, say, Yuen Woo Ping or Ching Siu Tung, Tung Wei is a true master of action who is responsible for some of Hong Kong and China’s most iconic action sequences, from the bullet ballet of John Woo’s Hard Boiled to the flighty fighting of Zhang Yimou’s Hero. But he only directed four films, and sandwiched between his two more high-profile directorial efforts, the horror/comedy/action film Magic Cop and the Jet Li vehicle Hitman, is this hidden gem, a tense but heartfelt little chase film that manages to thrill on what must have been a fairly small budget. From the first few minutes, which throw the audience right into the action while providing some background through brief, efficient flashbacks, to the brutal ending, Tung Wei keeps an impressive but never over-bearing sense of pace, and orchestrates interesting, varied action scenes that make creative use of their setting and accessories (grenades feature prominently, and in sometimes surprising ways). The show-stopper being an impressive and relentless jeep vs. bicycle chase that would probably be considered a classic, hadn’t the film been so little-seen.
But what makes Fox Hunter one of the best specimens of 90’s Hong Kong action cinema is not simply its string of masterfully staged and shot action scenes, it is also its unexpected heart. Jade Leung’s character is not a martial arts-proficient kick-ass policewoman or female assassin, she’s a courageous woman with strong resolve but also confidence issues and deep-set sense of loneliness. She knows how to use a gun but often looks poignantly outmatched by Ching Fung’s senselessly violent drug dealer. Leung excels in the role, and it’s a shame that the end of D&B Films, which gave her her big break, and the temporary decline of Hong Kong cinema in the second half of the nineties, curtailed her career ; she had, and still has, the makings of a star (nowadays she does mostly TVB shows). Next to her, Jordan Chan can get a bit annoying with his wimpy man-child act, but when the film calls for moment of calm introspection he delivers with the necessary poignancy, and the subplot involving his visit to his parents is surprisingly affecting. The pair he forms with Leung is an initially odd but ultimately sympathetic one. The ever excellent Yu Rong-Guang has a limited but memorable role as a Mainland cop blessed with infinite patience, deep compassion and the kind of coolness that allows him to slowly light a cigarette right after shooting a criminal in the head in the middle of an alleyway shootout. He could almost be said to belong in another film, but the one he ended up in is a fine one.
Long Story Short : A lean and mean little chase thriller that also has unexpected heart, Fox Hunter is a testament both to Tung Wei’s impeccable directing skills and to Jade Leung’s vibrant star quality. ****