Bomb disposal cop Kit Li (Jet Li) loses his wife and son when ruthless capitalist terrorists trap a slew of schoolchildren aboard a runaway bus rigged to expload when it exceeds a certain speed. Sound familiar? Yup, High Risk is a shameless rip-off of the then-recent bomb-on-a-bus action film Speed (1994). But that is just the first ten minutes. Traumatized by this tragedy, Kit quits the police force and disappears. Two years later, sexy reporter Helen (Chingamy Yau) chases a scoop on international action star Frankie Lone (Jacky Cheung), whom she discovers is a fraud. While Frankie claims to do his own stunts, in reality it is his bodyguard Kit risking life and limb and indulging a death wish.
Meanwhile the villainous “Doctor” (Kelvin Wong Siu), the man behind the school bus tragedy, assembles a crack squad of muscular mercenaries for the ultimate jewel heist. His sultry psycho girlfriend Fai Fai (Valerie Chow) poses as a staff member at a glitzy high-rise hotel where sweet receptionist Jayce (Charlie Yeung) has trouble dealing with her nerdy cop boyfriend Chow (Yeung Chung-Hing). Eventually all the characters converge on the hotel just as the heavily-armed jewel thieves gatecrash the party. Kit swings into action, guided by text messages from a captive Jayce while Helen tries to stay alive long enough to land the scoop of a lifetime and Frankie finds his fans expect him to play the hero, for real.
Known as Meltdown in the US - one of the generic titles bestowed on many Jet Li vehicles by distributors Miramax, though presumably to avoid confusion with the 1981 James Brolin thriller - High Risk was arguably Jet’s wildest collaboration with infamous schlock writer-producer-director Wong Jing. Three years before, Wong made the vaguely similarly plotted Jackie Chan vehicle City Hunter (1992). Jackie had been rather vocal about his supposed shortcomings as a director (although the finished film ranks among both men’s most entertaining efforts), so Wong sought revenge by savaging the clown prince of kung fu with the parodic Frankie: a cowardly, lecherous action star who lies about performing his own stunts.
In case Hong Kong moviegoers had any doubts about who was being spoofed, Wong also mocks Jackie’s famously flamboyant manager Willie Chan, here depicted as a self-serving homosexual who is slung off the skyscraper after trying to sacrifice innocent people to save his own skin. Also veteran star Wu Ma plays Frankie’s father and bears an uncanny resemblance to Jackie’s real-life paterfamilias. Whilst some of the spoofery is mean-spirited, a good deal of it is wickedly funny. Jacky Cheung steals the show from ostensible star Jet Li with his exuberant performance, skulking away when a terrorist pretends to hold Fai Fai hostage and donning that iconic yellow and black tracksuit worn by Bruce Lee in Game of Death (1978) for a rip-roaring kung fu fight with a villain called Mr. Bond! Possibly taking its cue from The Hard Way (1991), pampered movie star Frankie learns to be a real hero and earns the respect of his father.
Of course, in typical Wong Jing fashion - and let’s face it, in keeping with ninety percent of Hong Kong movies - High Risk does not settle for one genre or plotline, but encompasses dozens including the shameless lifting of ideas, scenes and even lighting set-ups from Die Hard (1988). However, the film actually anticipates (and betters) Snakes on a Plane (2006) - which was at one point set to be a Hong Kong style movie directed by Ronny Yu - when the terrorists unleash a slew of poisonous serpents on the hostages, precipitating the classic line: “Monster love eating pretty woman! Why bite my ass?” Overloaded with characters and soap opera subplots, plus a snippet of wholly unecessary male full frontal nudity (!), in spite of the schizophrenic switches in tone the action is off-the-wall with excellent shootouts and stunts choreographed by Corey Yuen Kwai. Most notably an amazing sequence where Jet Li ploughs his car through the hotel lobby, machineguns a bunch of terrorists and zooms inside the elevator, only to be met by flamethrowers on the next floor. He leaps out in the nick of time as the flaming auto falls off the top of the ten-story building. Amazing stuff. The finale with Kit struggling to free Helen from an explosive vest is more prosaic by comparison, but delivers an inspired bit of poetic justice for the suave villain while Jacky Cheung’s frenetic fight with Mr. Bond is a sublime slice of slapstick buffoonery. Goodness knows what Jackie Chan thought of it, though.