Cocky police detective Wang Bu Er (Wen Zhang) has a zeal for justice matched only by his ineptitude. His stalwart partner, Huang Fei Hong (Jet Li) is no less goofy but a master of kung fu, always ready to bail Bu Er out of trouble. These two numbskulls make crime-fighting an endless headache for their ostensible superior, long-suffering policewoman Angela (Michelle Chen). Hong Kong is rocked by a series of freak accidental deaths known as the Smiling Murders on account the victims, all well-known celebrities, died with big goofy grins on their faces. At first Bu Er is certain that budding actress, Liu Jin-Shui (Liu Shi-Shi) is responsible after discovering she was engaged to all three victims at different points in time. However, Jin-Shui maintains she is the innocent victim of a black magic curse.
In the Hong Kong film industry, as in Hollywood, it pays to have good connections. Debuting director Wang Zhi-Ming secured the services of Jet Li as a supporting actor on the strength of the firm friendship between the veteran mega-star and his father, producer Chui Bo-Chu. While some fans were disappointed Jet did not play a bigger role in proceedings (his character ducks in and out of the narrative), Badges of Fury gave him a rare and welcome chance to show off his flair for wacky comedy. Here he is as manic as Daffy Duck as the uncouth, ass-kicking cop with abilities bordering on the mystical and a name that is a groan-inducing gag reference to his celebrated role as legendary martial arts master Wong Fei Hung in Once Upon a Time in China (1991). It is a performance very much in keeping with the film's tone overall which is akin to a live action Looney Tunes cartoon complete with fast-motion slapstick, silly sound effects and gags that often border on the surreal. Playing third banana opposite gifted comic actor Wen Zhang – previously Jet's co-star in The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011) – and spirited Taiwanese star Michelle Chen, the action icon trades quips with the best of them, squares off against the likes of the amazing Jacky Wu Jing, Bruce Leung Siu-Lung and veteran Leung Kar-Yan and seems to be having a great time. Other celebrity cameos include Josie Ho as a lawyer, Alex Fong as a fake astrologist who gets all his readings from Google and former Miss World Eileen Zhang Zi-Lin in a final scene that shows why Huang Fei Hong is so eager to get home early every day.
Happily the film's exuberance proves infectious with the tone set by a hilarious montage of freak deaths and overblown credits sequence with the entire cast literally shot out of a huge CGI gun. Wang Zhi-Ming mounts Badges of Fury as a self-conscious throwback to the fast-paced action-comedies that once characterized Hong Kong cinema in its golden age during the Eighties and Nineties. Tonally this is not far removed from the likeable Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg vehicle The Other Guys (2010) only with more amped up action set-pieces and an even zanier streak of humour. The gags are deeply silly yet endearing: post-modern nods to Men in Black (1997), Infernal Affairs (2002) and naturally Jet Li's own iconic output; an inspired chase sequence with Bu Er riding a bicycle down the motorway in pursuit of a suspect, bouncing off cars and through windshields; and a sting straight out of Scooby-Doo where Angela entraps Jin-Shui with a fake press conference for a cross-over sequel pairing Jackie Chan's Police Story (1985) with Transformers (2007).
Yet in that uniquely Hong Kong style, Badges of Fury juxtaposes broad physical comedy with a surprisingly solid, even dramatic murder mystery. Although a little too much screen-time is allotted to a lachrymose sub-plot detailing Jin-Shui's romantic rivalry with estranged sexy sister Dai Yi Yi (Liu Yan, whose impressive cleavage proves the source of numerous gags), the divergent strands do come together as Bu Er poses as her latest suitor in order to lure out the killer and inevitably ends up falling for the glamorous film star. The twist regarding the killer's identity is actually clever and unexpected without straining credibility too far. Things end much as fans would hope with Jet kicking the crap out of the bad guy by way of an elaborate homage to the legendary warehouse fight from Once Upon a Time in China. Production wise this is a slick, attractive looking movie with sweeping camerawork and creative use of CGI for a number of off-kilter fantastical sight gags. It is worth watching for the hilarious interrogation scenes alone.