HIDDEN STRIKE (狂怒沙暴) (2023)

Genre: Action/Comedy
Director: Scott Waugh
Cast: Jackie Chan, John Cena, Pilou Asbæk, Zhenwei Wang, Max Huang, Amadeus Serafini, Rima Zeidan
Runtime: 1 hr 42 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 7 July 2023

Synopsis: Two ex-special forces soldiers (John Cena and Jackie Chan) must escort a group of civilians along Baghdad’s “Highway of Death” to the safety of the Green Zone.

Movie Review:

‘Hidden Strike’ may have stayed under the radar for close to five years, but we’re glad this East-West collaboration is finally seeing the light of day. Indeed, true to its title, this team-up between Jackie Chan and John Cena is an unexpected winner – not only is it one of Jackie Chan’s most entertaining action comedies in years, it also features one of the most engaging buddy dynamics between Jackie Chan and a foil since his pairing with Chris Tucker in the ‘Rush Hour’ trilogy.

Though threadbare, the story does pack a number of pleasant surprises. One such surprise is the relationship between Chan’s Commander Dragon Luo and Cena’s Chris Van Horne – than being on the same side right from the start, the pair find themselves at odds with each other, the latter being part of the team that hijacked two buses from a convoy that the former is escorting across Baghdad’s infamous ‘Highway of Death’ to the Green Zone. That said, you can probably guess that despite their initial differences, Luo and Chris will soon realise that they are up against the same enemy, namely the mercenary Owen Paddock (Pilou Asbæk).

Oh yes, there is more texture to both Luo and Chris than we did expect. Besides their similar background as ex-special forces turned private security contractors, Luo and Chris have their own regrets to deal with – while Luo still lives with the guilt of not being by his wife’s side when she fell ill and passed on, Chris carries the burden of not being able to save his father when he and his brother followed their dad out to Iraq on a mission two years back. Though admittedly slight, these details add nuance to the bond between Luo and Chris, besides their common sense of purpose.

Working off a screenplay by Iranian writer Arash Amael, director Scott Waugh (who is also at the helm of this fall’s ‘The Expendables 4’) choreographs a number of impressive set-pieces. Starting off with the aforementioned hijack in the midst of a deliberate sandstorm, Waugh combines whopping vehicular action with close-quarter shootouts and fistfights; with the latter in particular, Waugh showcases not only the complementary styles of Chan and Cena but also wrings some genuinely hilarious moments amidst their tag-teaming, especially their use of hand signals.

What we particularly enjoyed is the chemistry between Chan and Cena in these set-pieces, whether foiling a raid by Owen’s henchmen on a local Iraqi village that Chris is caretaker of or out-manoeuvring a whole army of baddies at the refinery to stop Owen from stealing millions of dollars worth of oil. In particular, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Chan so relaxed and playful, and we dare say the display here of his signature slapstick acrobatic style is one of the most delightful we’ve seen in recent memory, so kudos to Waugh for bringing out the best in Chan. Likewise, Waugh employs Cena’s dead-panning to good effect here, not least when he tries to exercise his conversational Chinese with Chan.

Waugh also deserves mention for balancing action, comedy, drama and even politics so neatly and deftly. Though there are surefire bits of action and comedy, Waugh, who broke into Hollywood with the gritty ‘Act of Valor’ about US Navy SEALs, keeps the proceedings as real and convincing as can be. There is palpable urgency to the extraction mission which Luo has been recruited for, to lead the civilian employees of Chinese petroleum company Yutime to safety. Though the change in tone when Luo meets Chris is evident, the jokes never do come at the expense of the drama. And to top it off, there is even geopolitical commentary thrown in, including veiled criticism at how such petroleum companies are content only to exploit the desert for its oil, without a care about bettering the lives of the local people.

So even though it’s been a good five years, ‘Hidden Strike’ proves a winner in more ways than one. Fans of Jackie Chan will rejoice at the chance to relive the entertainer’s versatility, both as an actor and as an action star. Fans of John Cena will cheer the opportunity to see him take centre stage in an action vehicle. And for everyone else, this is a fun, lively and even thrilling action comedy that showcases the best of its lead actors – in fact, we dare say it is one of the rare East-West collaborations that truly works, which given today’s state of affairs, will unfortunately be few and far in between.

Movie Rating:

(Probably the most entertaining Jackie Chan action comedies in recent memory, this team-up with John Cena is also one of the best buddy pairings he's had since that with Chris Tucker in 'Rush Hour')

Review by Gabriel Chong


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