There are some movies that I enjoy but are not really very good. The Viral Factor is one of them. It is a flashy action movie in the vein of Michael Bay, and firmly entrenched in the Hollywood tradition. However, while it is explosive, evident from the way the budget is thrown around the screen, the story is thin, built on coincidence and faux melodrama.
As The Viral Factor opens we are put right on the ground with Jon Man (Jay Chou) as a special forces team is being briefed. A potentially a new viral threat to be unleashed and this team is set to escort a scientist who knows a little something about said threat, and a smallpox sample, from Jordan to Norway.
While driving through the twisting streets of Jordan, the convoy is attacked, and in the midst of a hail of gunfire, one of the team is revealed to be a traitor. Nearly the entire team is killed, including Jon’s girlfriend (a member of the team). Jon wakes up in a hospital, learning he has a bullet lodged in his brain and has mere weeks to live.
Rather than sit in a hospital, he flies home to Beijing to spend time with his wheelchair bound mother. This reunion spurs his mother, tears in her eyes, to tell him a family secret about his gambling father and his previously unknown older brother, Yeung. The revelation throws Jon for a loop, and he hops a flight to Kuala Lumpur to look for him.
Yeung Man (Nicholas Tse) is a thief who just so happens to work for the same bad guys involved in the attack at the start of the movie. He has been charged with kidnapping a doctor (Ling Peng). The bad guys want her to create some sort of biological weapon out of the smallpox. Of course, before any of this happens, Jon becomes friends with the doctor. Add in some confusion over the initial meeting of the brothers, a gaggle of corrupt cops and plenty of bullets and you have the makings of a big third act of wild action.
There are a few more twists and turns to be had, but I have given you a good chunk to go on. The movie is fun, but it is ultimately a hollow fun like a Michael Bay film. The family connections and impending death of the hero act as the emotional hooks that make you think you think you are watching something meaningful, but then you get swept up in the action and realize the hooks are window dressing upon which explosive set pieces are hung. Instead of genuine emotion as a main course, you are left with a plate full of spent shell casings and a dazed expression induced one to many explosions.
That may not cast the most favorable of lights on the movie and I do not mean to be overly harsh. The movie is fun, well acted, and the action is well staged. The Viral Factor is fast paced and the action will carry you all the way to the end. The best thing to do is ignore the attempts at emotional involvement and the narrative coincidences and just go along with the flow of the action.
The movie was directed by Dante Lam (The Twins Effect) and he shows that he is quite capable of putting the money on the screen. Along with director of photography Kenny Tse, Lam uses the big screen to great effect. The shootouts are given their space and it is easy to follow the action, and they even take us to the skies over Kuala Lumpur to make sure that we get the best views of the location.
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 2.35:1 and looks quite good. This is a brightly lit film, there is very little in the way of nighttime scenes. This means that everything is there to see. Fortunately, the transfer is up to the challenge and detail is really good throughout. You can see nice facial details in close ups, the lines of the automatic weapons and the dents on the cars as they speak through the streets. The one negative I noticed a judder in some of the pans that made everything shake. Minor issue as it is a good looking transfer.
The audio is present on a Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It is a pretty bombastic track. Dialogue is nice and clear, but even better are the effects. The surround channels are used effectively, bullet sounds move across the field and explosions are all around. It is an immersive track that will wrap you up in its action. There is also a 5.1 English track, only to be used in a case of last resort.
- Making of. This making of gets plenty of behind the scenes footage of Malaysia.
- Cast and Crew Interviews. Three interviews, Dante Lam, Jay Chou, and Nicholas Tse. They discuss the film and their character origins.
- Trailer. The original theatrical trailer is included.
Bottomline. Fun action movie, but not much else. I guess it doesn’t have to be anything else. Action movies can be exhilarating, freeing, and purely entertaining. The Viral Factor may not work as emotionally involving drama, but it does succeed as an action packed thrill ride. It is worth watching.