Seventeen years ago notorious schlock writer-producer-director Wong Jing made Future Cops (1993) wherein Andy Lau played a time-travelling superhero going undercover as an average high school student. Never one to let a good thing go, Wong now virtually recycles that plot to surprisingly spectacular effect. Whilst thematically similar to last year’s Kung Fu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction (2009), Future X-Cops bests that Jeff Lau effort in almost every aspect.
In the year 2080, Hong Kong has become a gleaming high-tech, eco-friendly metropolis thanks to visionary genius Doctor Robert Masterson. Faced with bankruptcy a shadowy cartel of oil tycoons plan to steal his latest technological wonder: a time travel device. Future cop Kidd (Andy Lau) and his beloved spouse/fellow officer Millie (Fan Bingbing) foil an assassination attempt by mutant cyborg terrorists Kalon (Fan Siu-Wong) and Fiona (Tang Yifei), but at the cost of Millie’s life. While Kidd seeks solace in holographic fantasies of happier times, the bad guys create their own time machine to travel back sixty years and murder Masterson as a young boy.
Having nothing to lose, Kidd asks Masterson to transform him into a cyborg super-cop and travels back to the year 2020 alongside his twelve year old daughter Kiki (Xu Jiao). Now an ordinary, albeit bright schoolgirl Kiki mysteriously has no memory of her former life in 2080 while her dad masquerades, Clark Kent style, as a mild-mannered traffic cop partnered with smitten Holly (Barbie Hsu) and his stoic sergeant (Mike Ho). All goes well until two of Kiki’s classmates videotape Kidd performing feats of daring do that threaten to expose his identity.
Future X-Cops received a severe drubbing from English speaking Hong Kong film fans who seem to have lost their sense of fun whilst awaiting the next tediously straight-laced Donnie Yen kung fu movie. As a throwback to the zany fantasies of the Eighties and Nineties, this does the job nicely. It’s a mark of how far Asian special effects have advanced - and how Jing’s resources have grown now he’s mister megabucks - that the futuristic Hong Kong cityscape is rendered so eye-catching, refreshingly ditching Blade Runner (1982) styled dystopia for a shiny, optimistic vision. Taking their cue from Japanese animated classics such as Astro Boy, the production design is pure comic book splendour. Kidd’s half-man, half-robot look is quite striking - a CG body with the real Andy Lau’s face - while the memorable mechanical monstrosities include villains with steel claws, bat wings, missile launchers and a mutant that fires quills like a porcupine.
Veteran Ching Siu-Tung handles the blistering action choreography, but though it’s fun to watch the robo-heroes rocket across the Hong Kong skyline, bounce off buildings and become human corkscrews, Wong Jing surprises his detractors by downplaying computer graphics for the most part in favour of warmly drawn, wholly likeable characterisation. The time travel aspect doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but the drama and romantic elements prove affecting thanks to strong support from Barbie Hsu and young Xu Jiao, star of CJ7 (2008), playing her own gender for once. It’s not free of that typical Wong Jing silliness and crass humour, but a gag reference to oral sex (!), a trio of jewel thieves disguised as teenage girls, and a character whose head gets transformed into a widescreen TV, all raise genuine laughs. There is an easy to guess, but still satisfying twist regarding the identity of the young Doctor Masterson, plus one shock death that proves truly upsetting and a poignant encounter between Kidd and an elderly Holly. A perfectly likeable slice of family oriented sci-fi, bringing fond memories of that earlier Wong Jing/Andy Lau cult classic: The Magic Crystal (1986).