While it’s true that I’m a sucker for certain sub-genres — car chase movies high among them — Soi Cheang’s Motorway exceeded my expectations with superior driving sequences.
Built on a strong narrative structure — original story by Joey O’Bryan (Fulltime Killer), screenplay credited to O’Bryan, Szeto Kam Yuen, and Francis Fung — the film pits two pairs of men against each other. On the law enforcement side, Cheung (Shawn Yue) is impetuous and given to ignoring orders, while his partner Lo (Anthony Wong) wants to play it safe, as his long-awaited retirement draws near. They are members of the “Invisible Squad” in Kowloon, so-called because their job is to catch those who make Hong Kong streets dangerous with reckless driving and/or speeding.
On the criminal side, Jiang (Gung Xiaodong) is a legendary getaway driver who boasts that he has never been caught. He is busted out of jail by a hotheaded thief (Li Haitao), who has his eye on a giant diamond that he wants to steal. Their plans go awry, leaving behind a trail of dead bodies and wrecked cars, leading to an inevitable showdown with Cheung and Lo.
Cheung’s motivations are never made clear; what, exactly, are his problems with authority? As a consequence, when Lo’s backstory is eventually revealed, it creates an imbalance. Cheung remains an enigma who is expected to carry the balance of the film on his shoulders, even though Lo has engendered greater sympathy and understanding. Meanwhile, Jiang and his loose-cannon partner appear to have greater chemistry between them.
But the multitude of driving sequences do more than save the day. Even as a dedicated fan of car pictures, Motorway contains more than one scene that I’ve never seen before; the movie nods sagely at Walter Hill’s The Driver for inspiration, rather than conventional car chase pictures, or, say, the Fast and Furious movies, which are more interested in speed for speed’s sake. In particular, one sequence in the third act does a wonderful job of updating and expanding upon a certain idea that makes for an exquisite cat ‘n’ mouse experience.
Cheung and Jiang are unrefined characters who share a love of driving without being specific about it; they both appear to understand the mechanics involved without being ruled by what “the book” says about what the engine can or cannot do. Really, it’s more of an instinctual thing, a bonding, as it were, or a fusion between their personalities and the vehicles in which they sit and guide and prod and push. They can do nothing else but drive.
Which is the force that guides the cars that they drive that chase each through the dark, narrow streets of Hong Kong at night, the decks cleared of any pedestrians, as though they were involved in a game in which they are the only participants, and only one can emerge victorious and free to drive again.
In that respect, the movie has a fair amount in common with Cheang’s previous pictures, such as Dog Eat Dog, Shamo, and Accident, featuring desperate characters who are compelled to live desperate lives that are not easily understood by outsiders. Motorway showcases the high-speed desperation of a cop and a criminal heading toward a head-on collison.
Motorway is available on Blu-ray and DVD in multiple territories.
My copy is from Mega Star: Region 3 (requires all-region player).
Cantonese (DD 5.1 and DTS) and Mandarin (DD 5.1) audio tracks.
Traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, and English (small-ish but easy to read and well-timed) subtitles.
Special features: theatrical trailer; ‘making of;’ ‘behind the scenes.’
The video quality is OK, but visual artifacts are sometimes visible; I wish I’d sprung for the Blu-ray.