Sean (Shawn Yue) is an overconfident rookie with a need for speed. He works for a covert police unit consisting of the best drivers in the force specifically tackling underworld racing and fugitives on the run. Jensen (Guo Xiaodong) is one such target, a legendary escape driver for criminals, who had never been caught.
After an arduous car chase that occurs out of the blue, Sean outmaneuvers Jensen and arrests him. While he is gloating over his triumph in the precinct, Jensen pulls off a prison break with another inmate. It appears he has let Sean capture him deliberately. This humiliation draws Sean towards veteran cop Lo (Anthony Wong) who almost lost his life years ago while chasing Jensen and has since sworn off the motorway. Together they work to bring down Jensen and a diamond heist that is being planned by him.
Soi Cheang's Motorway is quite a departure from his pessimistic cerebral ventures. The cynical and blacker than black Dog Bite Dog (2006) exploded onto the scene as a completely underrated gem exposing the dirtiest and grittiest Hong Kong has to offer. Although Shamo (2007) was his next film it failed to ignite, however his follow-up Accident (2009), although more commercially viable retained its darkness as a tale of psychosis set in the professional world of elite assassins.
Although very light on plot compared to these films in his oeuvre, Motorway really takes off where it matters most. Certainly an amalgamation of the aesthetics of well-known films the likes of Drive (2011), The Italian Job (1969) and even Fast and the Furious (2011), Motorway successfully subdues the elements of these films and compacts them into minimalist action scenes that focus exclusively on the driving.
These superb set pieces are what the plot revolves around and these scenes are stunningly executed with expert precision and timing. Each car chase is exhilarating and technically complex but still retains an acceptable level of realism. It is hard not to recommend a film that incorporates drifting strategically.
The aesthetics are really what drives the film as the full display of masculine confidence and uncanny skills are on full display. This is enhanced by the progressive Drive-influenced soundtrack and the snappy editing. Whist the film falters in most dialogue-laden scenes, the action preceding them still lingers and the wait for the next thrilling scene is short.
These scenes are punctuated by one-line expositions and supporting characters, including an odd Josie Ho performance and Sean's potential love interest played by actress Barbie Hsu; a completely one-note character that only appears three times.
It certainly felt like Soi Cheang would have preferred a 90 minute chase scene rather than the finished product of Motorway as the full mastery of the stunt drivers undeniably enhance the film as they race through (without permits) a very different-feeling Hong Kong than what was portrayed in Cheang's previous films.
As it stands however Motorway still comes recommended with some reservations. If you want to see a film about the essence of driving and stunning displays of uncanny skill and tactical drifting, then look no further.
The DVD release of Motorway is adequate. The generic cover certainly does not help but the picture and sound have no issues.
In regards to the extras on the disc, the Making-of is excellent as it delves into the stunt men and their work on the film focusing on some of the more exciting scenes.
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