Iceman (2014)

Rating: D+

Dir: Law Wing-cheung
Star: Donnie Yen, Wang Baoqiang, Huang Shengyi, Simon Yam

A remake of 1989’s The Iceman Cometh, which starred Yuen Biao and Maggie Cheung, this looks very swish, but lacks any emotional heart and is thoroughly confusing: it wasn’t until well into the movie that I realized there were three deep-frozen warriors from the Ming dynasty, rather than two as in the original. The basic ideas remain the same: warriors get thawed out in the modern era, hero He Ying (Yen) meets local woman May (Huang), struggles to adapt to modern life, and battles the others across Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the man (Yam) responsible for chipping out the frozen fighters, is on their trail, in order to complete the agreed transaction, selling them to an unnamed North Korean dictator with an interest in immortality.

That’s about the only new aspect which stuck in my mind, despite the film’s clumsy attempts to make us care about the shrill May by giving her an elderly mother with Alzheimer’s, whom He Ying cures with a few acupressure sessions. Oh, I forgot: there’s a time machine which He Ying could use to get back to his own era, powered by – and I couldn’t make this shit up – the glowing penis of Hindu deity, Shiva. If the plot is a confusing, over-written mess, apparently written by an 11-year-old who loves farts, which doesn’t even have the decency to provide a coherent ending (instead, promising us Iceman 2, a dubious idea at best), I did like the look of the film, which is lusciously sleek, portraying Hong Kong as a neon-drenched wonderland. You can see how scary, confusing and strange it would be to a visitor from previous centuries, and it’s a shame they didn’t make more of it.

Unfortunately, Huang’s performance is a shrieking caricature rather than anything that would help give the film emotional heart, and as such is a pale shadow of Maggie Cheung in the original. The other main problem is the preponderance of CGI; while likely a necessity, given the movie’s (sometimes painfully obvious) 3D nature, this is a waste of Donnie Yen. It’s like hiring Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, then sending in some five-year-old fingerpainters to do touch up. Watching this the same week the almost entirely physical Mad Max came out, the difference in approach and results could hardly have been more stark.