A remake of the 1989 film 'The Iceman Cometh'. Hero Ying (Donnie Yen) and his evil foe (Wang Baoqiang) are two feuding Ming-era warriors killed during an avalanche, who recommence their epic battle when their frozen bodies thaw out in modern day Hong Kong.
Right at the end of the final credit crawl for Iceman is the usual capitalised warning that “This Picture Is Protected By Law”. Audiences, however just have to take their chances. Just before that warning comes the admission that this 2014 film is based on the 1989 movie Iceman Cometh. That film has a much revered status in the annals of Hong Kong’s long churn ‘em out and let the audience decide history, but this 3D update is unlikely to be recalled quite so fondly in 25 minutes time, let along 25 years time.
Some frustration will stem from the eventual discovery that the 105-minute “adventure” is an elaborate set-up for an impending sequel. But if that’s your sole disappointment, then you’ll be getting off lightly. There’s a lot to endure before that letdown arrives.
The premise is that three warriors from the Ming Dynasty have awoken from a state of suspended animation and find themselves in contemporary Hong Kong. The canisters containing the bodies have been bought or stolen from a prominent North Korean named Kim (any guesses?), but before the containers can be delivered, a road accident occurs, causing the metallic capsule containing our hero He Ying (Donnie Yen) to open.
"The film aims for a madcap atmosphere that constantly fails to ignite"
He Ying goes on to explore the modern world and finds drunken, good time girl Xiao Mei (Huang Shengyi) in Hong Kong’s nightspot Lan Kwai Fong during what looks like Halloween, but could just be a typical Friday night of finance industry bacchanalia. Xiao Mei takes He Ying home and while she finds him a little odd with his chivalrous orthodoxy and balletic martial arts movements, his generosity with his gold in return for hospitality helps her bond to this long-haired man in a chain-mail kilt. What He Ying wants from Xiao Mei is help finding something called the Golden Wheel of Life so he can fulfil an ancient prophecy.
Meanwhile, the other two Ming warriors, Sao (prominent Mainland actor, Wang Baoqiang) and Niehu (second tier and rising, Hong Kong actor, Kang Yu) also thaw out. They are looking for He Ying, because they believe he betrayed them 400 years ago and were about to settle the score when an avalanche put them all in the deep freeze.
The plot is no more or less silly than any number of Hong Kong fantasy films or the superhero movies that splurge across the world’s multiplex screens with great regularity. However, from the outset, the film aims for a madcap atmosphere that constantly fails to ignite. From the unlikely and poorly rendered series of events that causes the initial traffic accident (a plastic bag gets caught in a truck’s axle, causing mayhem), to He Ying demonstrating his ability to forcefully urinate further than anyone else, the film’s opening is a travesty. Nor do proceedings improve as Iceman goes from ignition failure to total misfires.
To justify its 3D effects, Iceman tosses the usual glass fragments and metallic debris. But when He Ying combats a police siege by taking a raucous dump and triggering a toilet explosion that showers cops and (by implication) the 3D glasses-wearing audience with faeces, the possibility that the film was going to find its rhythm seemed as remote as the Ming Dynasty. Simon Yam chews up the scenery with sinister relish as a corrupt cop, but his scenes are out of synch with all the nudge-nudge shenanigans going on the rest of the time.
Part of the imbalance seems a strategy to keep Mainland Chinese fans of Wang’s monster comedy hit Lost In Thailand happy. That Hangover-style film was such a megahit, that the Mainland producers who have all but taken over Hong Kong’s film industry have deliberately incorporated a wacky tone. Ironically, Wang being such a versatile actor, with dramatic (Blind Shaft, Assembly) and comedic strings to his bow (the afore-mentioned Lost in Thailand), he is able in his supporting role to juggle the ribaldry with the malevolence required to make him an appetising villain. But spending much more time on screen, the (often dramatically limited) martial arts master Yen is all at sea. In fact the film might have worked better if the roles were reversed. But with all the other issues this film has, it would have been like swapping deckchairs on the Titanic.
Huang gives her hooker-that-isn’t a better sense of comic timing than Yen, but her character’s tender motivation of (kind of) prostituting herself to pay for her mother’s old folks' home accommodation is a logistic stretch even for a film as poorly assembled as this one. Besides, Huang’s not a patch on Maggie Cheung, who appeared in the original.
On the martial arts front, Yen bounds gymnastically around contemporary Hong Kong, but the first worthy fight comes well past the one-hour mark, when He Ying and Sao square off in a nightclub. Prior to that, Yen makes some fancy moves as he inflicts some high-impact remedial massage on Xiao Mei’s ageing and non compos mentis mother, in an obvious joke that is telegraphed so far in advance it could have appeared in a prequel.
Then - as if, in a last minute brainstorm the writers realised they’d better give the audiences something if there was any hope of people coming back for a sequel - a deluge of action occurs in the last 20 minutes. In an excessive, and paradoxically dull, sequence on Tsing Ma suspension bridge, writer Lam Fung (the Lan Kwai Fong films, CJ7, Punished) and director Law Wing-cheong (also Punished), simultaneously supply the audience with multiple action events like force-feeding pellets to a battery hen after it’s been on a starvation diet. This grandstanding finale - and accompanying sequel teaser - are supposed to leave audiences hungry for more. Personally, I think that sequel that should be put on ice, much like the poor old Ming Dynasty warriors.