Originally titled Undercover vs Undercover, it has taken the better part of four years for Undercover Punch and Gun to finally secure a release, having been produced way back in 2015. It finally reached Hong Kong cinema screens in September 2019.
Although I am unclear on the reasoning why it was shelved for so long, upon viewing the completed film it is difficult to see what issues the distributor may have had with it. While it is clearly a low budget affair, Undercover Punch and Gun has turned out to be an enjoyable martial arts comedy that harkens back to the glory days of 80’s & 90’s Hong Kong cinema.
Like those films, Undercover Punch and Gun is filled with a likeable cast, a threadbare plot and some excellently choreographed action. Of course it is never going to be considered as an action classic, but anyone looking for a quick action fix with the barest minimum of thought required should look no further.
The film opens with the introduction of undercover cop King Wu (Philip Ng) who has managed to infiltrate the crime gang of Triad leader Bob (Lam Suet). During his mission Wu has grown to be quite close with Bob, so much so that he is in a relationship with Bob’s daughter (Aka Chio). When their latest drug deal results in the death of Bob, Wu is encouraged to go even deeper undercover, with him now taking over Bob’s position.
Looking into the death of Bob brings Wu into the crosshairs of ex special agent Ha (Andy On) as well as that of Bob’s old business partner (Carrie Ng) who does not trust him. In order to defeat them, Wu has to rely on loyal informant Tiger (Vanness Wu) and vengeful special agent Eva (Joyce Feng) who has a personal score to settle with Ha.
This marks the directorial debut of screenwriters of Lui Koon-nam and Frankie Tam Kwong-yuen, who additionally contributed to the script. Between them they have worked on the scripts of quality movies like Gallants (2012), Robbery (2016) and Chasing the Dragon (2017).
Surprisingly none of the talent of those scripts is evident in Undercover Punch and Gun, with thinly written characters and an even more inconsequential plot. Like many of the films it emulates, it would seem the sole purpose of the script is to link the action scenes, which it at least does well enough.
Amazingly, Lui Koon-nam and Frankie Tam Kwong-yuen are not the only writers to work on the completed script, with Yang Zhi, Li Yinsheng, Link Ling, Huang Huihui, and Chucky Kom all contributing to what ended up on screen. How it took seven writers to come up with such a threadbare plot I will never know.
Even though their script may be lacking, Lui Koon-nam and Frankie Tam Kwong-yuen do well enough in their first outing as directors, giving the film a nice professional sheen that is lacking in many other low budget actioners. Working in collaboration with Ng, they also show enough talent with action scenes to at least lead to further directorial work down the line.
It would seem that for the most part, Undercover Punch and Gun was an excuse for real life pals Philip Ng, Any On and Vanness Wu to work together. Though this will never go down as their best work, each of them manages to impress in their roles and rise above the limitations of the flimsy script.
Ng’s role does not exactly stretch his acting abilities but he does get to show off his excellent martial arts skills throughout, with his one on one fight with main villain Andy On as well as another against henchwoman Jiang Luxia on board a cargo ship being clear standouts.
Philip Ng really should be a bigger star by this point in his career. He has already shown that he can lead a film with his role in Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014) as well as the poorly received Birth of a Dragon (2016) where even with a number of drawbacks Ng managed to show his star power.
With Undercover Punch and Gun Ng not only has a chance to work in front of the camera but is in charge of choreographing the action. He has worked behind the scenes before, with the likes of Zombie Fight Club (2014) and more recently Colour of the Game (2017) featuring his work as action director. However, Undercover Punch and Gun is the best example yet of his work as a fight choreographer, with him filling the film with a variety of brutal and exciting action.
As well as the previously mentioned one on one fights Ng has with On and Luxia there is also a well-staged warehouse brawl that not only gives our leads a chance to show off their fighting abilities but has Vanness Wu displaying some impressive parkour skills, with him chasing after a speeding car.
In regards to Vaness Wu, his character can come across as quite annoying but grows on you as the film progresses, with him being one of the only characters to stand by Ng. He certainly gets more to do here than with his co-starring role in blockbuster Ip Man 4 (2019).
As well as displaying a talent for parkour, Vanness Wu also impresses in the small number of fight scenes he has. Most impressive is a dangerous looking knife fight against Aaron Aziz’s henchman during the finale.
Performance wise, Andy On probably fares best, with him chewing the scenery as the villainous Ha. Showing as much disregard for his own team as he does of the film’s heroes, Andy On gets a fair share of the action with him coming across as a total badass.
On the female side, Joyce Feng as special agent Eva gets the most to play with but even then is short changed in comparison to her co-stars. In terms of action, her face off with Meng Jia in a sniper battle is the main stand out.
Feng’s other female co-star, Jiang Luxia does not get a great deal to do until the finale when she finally gets a chance to unleash some moves. She is also shown to have some form of moral code compared to On’s character although this is too little too late to be really deemed interesting. Still, Luxia does what she can within the limits of her role.
Bolstering the main cast is some fun cameos from the likes of Nicholas Tse, here starring as Ng’s commanding officer and Lam Suet as a crime boss. It is also nice getting to see the lovely Carrie Ng even if her screen time is only fleeting.
I may be in the minority of those who enjoyed Undercover Punch and Gun as it seems most of the reviews have been negative. This is a shame as although the film clearly has its faults, there is still clearly enjoyment to be had. Additionally it proves once again that Philip Ng is one of action cinema’s unheralded stars.