A big budget, explosive, stunt-packed action film intended to launch a new generation of Hong Kong stars for the 21st century. Produced by Jackie Chan and directed by Benny Chan, the film stars Nicholas Tse, Stephen Fung, Sam Lee, Grace Yip, Daniel Wu and Eric Tsang.
Nicholas Tse plays the tough but cool “Jack”. Tse is a Hong Kong actor, singer, songwriter, musician, entrepreneur, and martial artist, best known for his roles in “Young and Dangerous: The Prequel”, “Invisible Target“, “New Police Story“, “Shaolin“, “The Storm Warriors”, and “Bodyguards and Assassins“. Tse was the third highest earning actor in Hong Kong with HK$150 million (US$19.3 million) in 2014.
Actor, singer, writer, film director and producer Stephen Fung stars as “Match”, the playboy of the group, who is more interested in the girls than the criminals. In 2004, Stephen wrote, directed and starred in his feature film directorial debut, “Enter the Phoenix”. Produced by Jackie Chan’s then newly-formed company, JCE Movies Limited, it became an instant hit in Hong Kong.
Sam Lee plays “Alien”, the goofball of our team of heroes. Lee made his feature film debut in 1997 in Fruit Chan’s “Made in Hong Kong”, and appeared in thirteen movies, throughout 1999, including this one. Pop singer and actress Grace Yip plays “Y2K”, a technical expert who is also pretty handy when it comes to a fight. Yip was a teen popstar and also appeared in the martial arts movie “A Man Called Hero”, which starred Ekin Cheng, Nicholas Tse, Shu Qi and Yuen Biao.
Former stuntman and popular actor Eric Tsang plays “Inspector Chan”, who puts together the team of unorthodox young cops. Tsang has had a prolific film career appearing in hits such as the “Lucky Stars” series of films, Jet Li‘s “Hitman”, Andy Lau‘s “Infernal Affairs”, Donnie Yen‘s “Bodyguards and Assassins” and most recently in Jackie Chan‘s “Skiptrace”.
Daniel Wu stars as the psychotic but ambitious gangster “Daniel”. Although Wu’s family are from Shanghai, he was born and raised in California, and studied wushu from the age of 11. He received acclaim for his performance in “One Night in Mongkok” and went onto star in Jackie Chan’s “New Police Story”. In 2015 Wu took the lead role in the martial arts action television series “Into the Badlands”.
Rounding out the supporting cast are Japanese actor Tôru Nakamura as the criminal mastermind “Akatora”, model and actress Jaymee Ong as “Haze” who has conflicting loyalties between Daniel and Match, actor and singer Terence Yin as Daniel’s right-hand man “Tooth”, and award-winning actor Francis Ng as “Lok”, who is in Hong Kong hunting down those responsible for the death of his friend.
For fans of Hong Kong cinema there are some familiar cameo appearances from Jackie Chan, Brad Allan, Ken Lo, Alan Mak, Kenji Tanigaki, Robert Sparks, Thomas Sin, Keiji Sato, Bruce Khan, Rocky Lai, David John Saunders and Bey Logan.
Hong Kong police crack an underground smuggling ring and seize a massive shipment of stolen jet fuel. The criminal mastermind and Yakuza boss Akatora steals back the fuel with the aim of using Hong Kong thug Daniel to sell it to a gang of international terrorists.
Put-upon police Inspector Chan believes by recruiting a group of young rebellious cadets from the police academy, that he can infiltrate the gang. These unorthodox “Generation X Cops” must walk a thin line between upholding the law and breaking it in order to save Hong Kong from a devastating terrorist attack.
The action begins with a stealthy heist to pilfer highly-volatile jet fuel before cutting to an explosive car and motorcycle chase along the highway. Looking very realistic and painful, stuntmen fly through windscreens and crash headfirst over their handlebars. Subsequently, a huge explosion at a police station kills several police officers who are celebrating their most recent success in thwarting the criminal gang.
Inspector Chan believes the best way to infiltrate these criminals is to recruit young cadets who are still raw and rebellious and can blend in more successfully as young gangsters. At the police academy we see teams of cadets abseiling down buildings, firing their machine guns. Inspector Chan is in an interview room at the academy to assess the candidates for his new team. The first cadet we see performs the Nanquan wushu form, the next is a bodybuilder who rips off his T-shirt to show off his bulging biceps. Chan is not impressed by either. But when three young recruits are brought in for insubordination he sees the rebel and the potential in them.
Chan catches up with the three daredevils and is forced to skydive with them in order to win their trust. Having persuaded them to join his unit, Chan tasks them with the surveillance of a known gang hangout. They encounter “Y2K” holding her own in a brawl with two thugs from the club. It emerges that she is a computer expert whose father was a policeman killed in the bomb blast. Seeking to bring those responsible to justice, she joins the team.
The team visit the nightclub to try and gather intelligence about the gang. The scene is set for a bar brawl and we get our first chance to witness the lead actors in action. They acquit themselves well not only in dishing out the kicks and punches, but also taking them. Performing most of their own stunts we see all three male leads being thrown onto the bar, hitting the ground hard, or crashing through glass.
The fight earns them recruitment into Daniel Wu’s gang and he sends them to a meeting at a boatyard with a fellow gang boss. The meeting quickly turns into a mass shootout, which becomes even more frantic when a police SWAT team arrive. It’s filmed at a lightning pace with squib-laden stuntmen taking lots of bullet hits and bouncing off various obstacles as they are mowed down with machine guns. Nicholas Tse performs an impressive leap onto the tip of an upright kayak so he can fall to the floor below to escape. Sam Lee also impresses in a demonstration of perfect timing as he falls down some scaffolding and rolls out of the way of a body that smashes through the platform he is on at the very last second, all in one shot! Stephen Fung and Sam Lee also have to leap into the harbour at the last possible moment from an exploding boat.
Later, Nicholas Tse impresses still further with his stuntwork when he has to escape from the depths of a swimming pool that has been covered in flaming gasoline.
After a tense stand-off on the roof of a skyscraper the team are forced to parachute off it in order to escape. The BASE jumps were performed for real by the same skydiving stunt team used by the James Bond productions. It’s quite astonishing to see the multi-angle shots of the stuntmen genuinely throwing themselves off the top of a tall building and then gliding between the skyscrapers when their ‘chutes open.
The film builds up to an action-packed climax set in the famous Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Nicholas Tse and an army of police confront Akatora and his gang. Guns blaze among the many slow motion shots of Tse et al leaping over or behind various bits of cover. Pursued into the bowels of the convention centre and bereft of ammunition, our heroes go hand-to-hand with Akatora. The choreography is fast, if a little unoriginal, with Tôru Nakamura as Akatora looking the most proficient of those fighting. The action peaks in spectacular style with some of the biggest pyrotechnic and explosive effects ever seen in a Hong Kong production.
As the millennium was drawing to a close in 1999, this film was all about the potential of its young stars and its director and the Hong Kong film industry demonstrating it could make an action epic as well as anyone in the international market.
Director Benny Chan was given a massive HK$30m production budget and he does his best to put it all on the screen. He films with a cool-looking commercial style and employed the Oscar-winning special effects team behind the Hollywood blockbusters “Independence Day”, “Apollo 13” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” for the large-scale explosions. Although Jackie Chan’s infamous stunt group handle most of the action on the ground, Benny Chan was able to get the parachuting specialists, who created some of the most memorable aerial stunts in the James Bond movies, to handle the impressive skydiving sequences. In keeping with the tradition of Jackie Chan-produced fare, the lead actors perform many of their own stunts and fights.
Touted as the last great Hong Kong action film of the 20th Century, it is instead a bit of a misfit movie. It all looks very stylish and expensive, but lacks the pedigree of its peers. Jackie Chan performs better action and stunts when he stars, John Woo’s movies have better shoot outs and Johnnie To makes much better gangster films. Apart from the occasional humorous aside, the dialogue and story are really poor and you are left with what looks like an extended music video of noisy action sequences flimsily strung together.
“Gen-X Cops” certainly demonstrates the promise and charisma of its lead actors, especially Nicholas Tse and Daniel Wu as well as the action-directing skills of director Benny Chan, all of whom have gone onto bigger and better things. Perhaps the team behind this film needed it as a learning process in order for them to make the far superior “Invisible Target” a few years later?
If you are looking for a “leave your brain at the door”, non-stop, action film, featuring some of Hong Kong’s most attractive young stars, or you’re curious to see many of them at the start of their careers, this is passable entertainment. Make sure you watch out for Jackie Chan’s short but hilarious scene-stealing cameo!
- Stephen Fung has gone onto be a successful producer and director in his own right with films such as “House of Fury”, “Tai Chi 0” and “Tai Chi Hero”. He is an executive producer and action director for the AMC original series, “Into the Badlands”, which stars Daniel Wu.
- Because of their command of perfect English, Nicholas Tse, Stephen Fung, Daniel Wu, and Terence Yin dubbed their own voices for the English audio track of the film.
- In the “Making of” documentary “No Pain, No Gain”, having been “blown” into the harbour by an explosion, actor Sam Lee reveals his distinct displeasure at finding a floating turd upon surfacing in the freezing cold water!
- Stephen Fung and Sam Lee returned in the year 2000 for the sequel “Gen-Y Cops”. Nicholas Tse did not return and was replaced by Edison Chen playing a character named “Edison Chan”.
- Nicholas Tse subsequently worked with Benny Chan on “New Police Story”, “Rob-B-Hood“, “Invisible Target” and “Shaolin”.
- In real life, Nicholas Tse has fallen foul of the law for assaulting members of the paparazzi and also for racing and crashing his Ferrari in Hong Kong when he was an up-and-coming star.