There are two cars speeding through Hong Kong which quickly attract the attention of the cops who after a brief chase pull out in front of the lead vehicle and stop them. The cops, including patrolman Cheung (Shawn Yue) approach the drivers who protest loudly they have been tricked and the officers were behaving recklessly, but such whining falls on deaf ears - though suddenly the lead car pulls away quickly and tries to escape. Cheung jumps into in his vehicle and starts pursuing, the shouts of his partner that they already have the car's license number so there's no need going ignored. As it is, Cheung misses out on capturing the felon, and this might cost him his job...
Not because he lost the criminal, but because he was behaving recklessly as well, although if he behaved a bit more recklessly Motorway might have been a shade more interesting. Many in the West were drawn to watch it not thanks to the director or stars, but for its producer Johnnie To whose way with an action thriller had gathered many admirers, yet it was clear from the first act that we were dealing not with a typical To movie but a Cheang Pou-Soi movie, which in this case was not quite as captivating. Rather than a high octane car chase flick in imitation of Holywood's Fast and Furious franchise, what you had here was curiously more an attempt to tell a story in the vein of a cult hit of the day.
So the stunts, while perfectly adequate, stayed on this side of reality instead of taking us to a kind of vehicular funland where pedal was indeed put to metal and motors were zooming around the place with little regard for risking the drivers' lives and limbs. Nope, what was on offer was more a telling of Drive, the Nicolas Winding Refn effort, only told from the perspective of the lawmen, or rather the lawman, Yue's maverick cop. He is reprimanded by his superior for losing his head on duty and assigned to looking out for speeding drivers at the side of a motorway with new partner Lo, played by veteran tough guy with soul Anthony Wong, who has a past with the movie's main villain which will soon be of great interest to Cheung.
There's a plot put into play here which the cops should really have twigged was suspicious when a flash eighties car is found in an alleyway with a few ounces of cocaine on one of its front seats. It is impounded while they work out who it belonged to - at the police station where a certain Mr Big criminal (Li Haitao) is being held in the cells there. When Jiang (Guo Xiaodong) gets himself arrested and taken to the same station, nobody thinks anything of it until, what do you know, he shoots the arresting officer, frees the Mr Big and they both hightail it off in the flash vintage car. Luckily, expert driver Cheung was around and he gives chase along with a bunch of other officers and it's all going well until Jiang proves himself a better driver by turning around an incredibly tight bend in an alley.
Now, this tight corner is supposed to sum up Cheung's professional and personal mountain to climb, since the first time he tries to make it he merely smashes up his patrol car, not having mastered the technique. But lo and behold, er, Lo has the skills and just as in many a seventies kung fu movie this wise old fellow will act as mentor to the enthusiastic yet untested young upstart. Unfortunately for the drama, the thrills are hard to come by when Cheang invested so much in us watching a man turn a corner in his car, it's simply not as exciting as the movie seems to think; obviously there's more to this, but for a long time it feels as if there's not much more, and with its sombre mood and well-concealed humour Motorway belies its title by beginning to drag. This was pretty much a boys' movie all the way, so while there were female roles as Barbie Hsu beats Cheung at billiards, Josie Ho is the top cop and Michelle Ye has about three nanoseconds of screen time as Lo's missus, even the crusading to save the ladies element of Drive was missing. This was just OK. Music by Alex Gopher and Xavier Jamaux.