Ying (Donnie Yen), a highly skilled martial arts warrior of the Ming Dynasty Palace Guard, is ordered to escort the precious Golden Wheel of Time, said to have the power of time travel and ability to see into the future, from Sindu back to China. Along his perilous journey he is wrongly accused of a murder and hunted by his three brothers, Yuanlong (Simon Yam) Sao, and Niehu, all bent on revenge. At the height of battle all four are buried by a huge avalanche, freezing them in time. 400 years later, they are unearthed, defrosted and forced to adjust to modern-day life. Using the Golden Wheel that unlocks the past, Ying must regain his honour and correct history, defeating his brothers once and for all in an almighty fight to the death.
Visually stunning fantasy actioner
- Iceman review by RS
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You rated this film: 3
This film exists for its set pieces and they’re quite something. The opening visual fusillade uses all the tricks in the filmmakers’ arsenal and is a wonder to behold: aerial shots, crane shots, wire work, bullet time… all seamlessly edited into an exhilarating action sequence. The insane plot catapults 17th century warrior Donny Yen into present day Hong Kong and concerns something to do with Shiva’s penis. But who cares when we have a fight in a blizzard with Donny outrunning an avalanche by using his shield as a snowboard?
In-between action scenes the film sags drastically with a ham-fisted romantic subplot played for comedy – never Donny’s strong point. Fortunately the next set piece is never far away and the climactic set-to on a Hong Kong suspension bridge is worth sticking around for.
Of course the film has been routinely dismissed as lame-brained by critics who judge films purely on content and prefer the paint-drying theatre of bore-fests such as The Assassin to pure cinema. Ignore them. Director Wing-cheong Law films with effortless verve. When Iceman hits the spot, it delivers style to spare.
Iceman is the 2013 remake of the 1989 martial arts epic The Iceman Cometh. The two movies are night and day. The Iceman Cometh featured the masterful action choreography of Yuen Biao. Iceman features shockingly sloppy direction for film editor Law Wing-cheung. The Iceman Cometh had Cannes winner Maggie Cheung delivering a lovable performance. Iceman has Donnie Yen phoning it in for a role that’s beneath him. The Iceman Cometh made critics rave and won several Hong Kong Film awards. Iceman most likely made critics gag when Donnie Yen defeats an army with exploding poop and won an award for Worst Actor.
This is a movie of many problems, but its biggest fault is how it refuses to pick a tone or style. It dips into the sci-fi by unfreezing three warriors from the Ming dynasty - at which point a frightened citizen remarks “is this Terminator?” Well, is it? One might gain that impression based on some of the rather brutal deaths inflicted by the two bad apples of the thawed bunch. The evil warriors discover guns and fire multiple shots into a police officer - his body erupting with blood. By that description, one would think this were a Hong Kong equal of The Terminator. But this is a martial arts comedy (I think). So, naturally, most of this takes the route of a fish-out-of-water story. This aspect is predictable, but still the most likable of the varying degrees this movie shifts from back and forth.
The noble He Ying (Donnie Yen) seeks to clear his name that was defaced by history and restore honor to the dynasty he failed to protect. But not before he befriends average girl May (Huang Shengyi) and helps out her dying mother. Thankfully, the movie has enough decency by holding itself back from making He Ying a caveman to the modern age. He encounters a digital tablet for obtaining clues from history, but grasps the concept just enough to not throw it on the ground declaring black magic. Despite leaping into a new age, Ying is able to adjust much easier to this world than one would expect. His enemies, the thawed Sao and Niehu, also manage to adapt quite well despite their outbursts over Japanese politics. Such topics warrant more emotion than their enthusiasm for spaghetti curry or karaoke clubs.
Or do they? I can’t help but feel that there was a trade-off in the humor of misplaced warriors for the foulest of low-brow. Filling the gaps of this tacked together production are some “comedic” moments of farts and excrement. It’s not enough that the movie has to feature Donnie Yen fart really loud into a toilet and make it explode. The toilet has to launch high into the air and then spray a large group of people with a wave of poop. There are plenty of close ups of the victims being drenched in brown if those shots happen to be your bag. A shocked citizen remarks at how amazing it is to witness such a sight. The shock is a little different on my end.
If you can make it past the poop and cliches, the movie is still a jumbled mess of direction. There’s an overuse of special effects to make the three warriors zip around Hong Kong and wield ridiculously large weapons. The cutting from fight to fight is just as clunky as the pacing of the story which never finds a groove. The movie constantly jumps between the various arcs including a pointless MacGuffin which involves a golden wheel and severed penis. It’s not worth explaining in this review - none of it syncs up anyway. There’s no progression to the romance, no surprise to the historical elements and no sense of a developing story. This is a movie where things just happen without reason or provocation.
Iceman tumbles over its expensive $200 million budget - shattering on the floor into several fragments that are fruitlessly reassembled to save face. Some decent fights and unique sets do little to offset the rushed and incoherent production. Even Donnie Yen cannot save this project. And when Donnie Yen can’t save a martial arts picture, it’s doomed to be a disaster. The award winning choreographer has been reduced to a Golden Broom award for Worst Actor. It’s Hong Kong blockbuster garbage at its finest.