First Options: ”You’re not the best, and you’re not the worst either.”

Year:1996
Directed by Gordon Chan
Produced by
Written by Chan Hing-Kar and Gordon Chan
Cast: Michael Wong, Gigi Leung, Damian Lau, Lee Fung, Kathy Chow, Joseph Cheung Man-Kwong, Kim Yip, Stephen Chan Tak-Gwong, Woo Wai-Chung, Go Shut-Fung, Winston G. Ellis, and Brian Banowetz

Hong Kong’s Special Duties Unit enters into an uneasy partnership with custom officials to take down a group of dangerous smugglers.

First Options might strike you as one of those tacky action films that tend to be direct-to-video. The production values doesn’t help with shaking off this assumption. Appearances can be deceiving, so First Options actually is quite a toned down action thriller that makes somewhat of a serious effort to be realistic. Undeniably First Options doesn’t have much to warrant praise. Though, it should be praised for avoiding the sin of being simply another loud and dumb action movie which is, probably Hong Kong cinema’s greatest export. The slow and deliberate attention placed upon the police proceedings casts a very different tone that grounds First Options closer to reality. The interservice rivalry doesn’t descend into a bombastic contest of egos just for the sake of a few laughs. The interservice rivalry is actually handled sincerely, so we’re witnesses to seeing these distinct branches move from frenemies to close comrades. It’s not exactly what you should put heaps of praise on but the emotions it stirs up feels strangely close to the heart. The shootouts are executed with a deliberation that puts up an air of on-screen professionalism that elevates the authenticity of the gunplay.

Michael Wong as an actor does have an affable screen presence. Unfortunately, he isn’t the type of actor that can carry an entire film on its own. Wong’s lack of fluency in Cantonese and his tendency to speak verbal English feels jarring because most of the people he’s speaking to don’t look like they’re actually understanding even what he’s saying. Not to mention, it takes a while to warm up to him since he’s kind of a hapless meathead. Michael Wong is type of an actor that works better when he’s regulated to to a supporting role while Gigi Leung should have taken the reins as the lead. Her acting scenes blows Michael out of the water. Gigi Leung’s Minnie Kwan is surprisingly sympathetic for being such a second fiddle.

Otherwise, First Options is a cut and dry production that doesn’t warrant much praise. The execution of First Options leaves a lot to be desired. First Options’ modest aspirations are cut down by too many contradictory elements which are mainly mediocre acting in what are supposed to be intense scenes and a cartoonish villain in a restrained action triller.

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