Sonny (Aaron Kwok) is a dumb but lovable circus clown whose dream of becoming a famous knife-thrower just like his dear-old dad are forever frustrated by nasty knife expert, Chu (Collin Chou). On tour in Malaysia, Sonny tags along when Chu and his gang discover a cave occupied by the Japanese army during the Second World War that holds a cache of gold. Unfortunately, it also contains an experimental bio-chemical toxin that transforms them all into super-powered mutants. A body-bloated Sunny washes ashore in Hong Kong where he is rescued by beautiful and ambitious TV news reporter, Angel (Shu Qi). She spies a scoop when Sunny reverts back to his handsome self and uses his newfound superpowers to foil a bank robbery. Acupuncture wielding kung fu cop Sun Hao (Jacky Wu Jing) and his partner, both professional and personal, Tai (Zhang Jing-Chu) enlist Sunny as a super-powered crime-fighter against mutant criminals led by his old adversary, Chu.
Until relatively recently there weren’t that many superhero movies made in Hong Kong. In fact the colourfully chaotic Shaw Brothers classic Super Infra-Man (1975) remained the sole effort in this genre for a great many years followed only by the ignominious Invincible Space Streaker (1988). However, Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie was surprisingly popular in Hong Kong. Coinciding with the boom in CGI effects spectacles such as Storm Riders (1998) its influence has been evident in recent Cantonese superhero outings like City of Masks (2002), Future X-Cops (2010) and most prominently this wacky comic book styled adventure from veteran action hand, Benny Chan. City Under Siege even mimics the World War Two-set prologue from X-Men, albeit substituting a Japanese military lab for a concentration camp. Also certain scenes seem to have been closely modelled on specific sequences from Hollywood superhero epics including Spider-Man (2002) and The Dark Knight (2008) though also, inevitably The Matrix (1999). In fact the film was promoted in France, under the alternate title of Blast, as a Chinese variation on The Matrix although the tone established by Aaron Kwok’s remarkably manic lead performance is a little closer to The Mask (1994).
A typically schizophrenic Hong Kong production, City Under Siege flip-flops from frantic farce to tear-jerking tragedy with a carefree abandon liable to infuriate those unaccustomed to Cantonese genre filmmaking. The plot is undeniably inconsistent and borderline incoherent and yet manages to remain wildly entertaining not only on the strength of its accomplished special effects, neon-vibrant comic book colours and rousing action sequences choreographed by Nicky Lee and Ma Yuk Sing (who worked on Storm Riders) but the oddly engaging mugging of its gleefully uninhibited cast. The film goes out of its way to place handsome Cantopop idol and award-winning actor Aaron Kwok in the zaniest situations imaginable, whether goofing around in crazy clown makeup or a surprisingly convincing latex fat suit.
Much like Terence Hill in Supersnooper a.k.a. Super Fuzz (1981) there is an inconsistency to Sunny’s superpowers as they tend to switch from super-strength or speed to some form of psychokinesis depending on the situation. Nevertheless, Kwok’s accomplished acting leaves Sunny a lovable doofus even though his particular plotline proves less compelling than the one assigned to co-stars Jacky Wu Jing and Zhang Jing-Chu. Their likeable crime-fighting couple have a satisfying story arc that proves rather affecting. Elsewhere, the ever-lovely Shu Qi is charismatic and likeable as a more proactive love interest than normally showcased in superhero films, not above getting stuck into a fight. Rather than go the Lois Lane route, the plot has Angel cynically manipulate Sunny into a media phenomenon to further her career. This, coupled with Ho’s equally cynical use of him as bait to lure out the hideously deformed Chu and his gang, plays to an underlining theme about the pursuit of fortune and glory making monsters of men and women. Sunny remains an incorruptible innocent and Angel grows to regret her cavalier abuse of his trust and affection. This prefigures a third act shift into total seriousness, introspection and of course kick ass martial arts action. Naturally, Aaron also sings several sugary Cantopop songs including the closing theme.