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China Strike Force (2000)

Director: Stanley Tong
Starring: Aaron Kwok, Norika Fujiwara, Mark Dacascos, Coolio, Lee-Hom Wang
Rated R Running time: 91 minutes
Released by Dimension Films

There have been many times that I have wished that Rush Hour had never been made.

Jackie Chan's mega-hit Rumble in the Bronx renewed international interest in the martial arts genre, prompting the release of countless Asian action films which had never been seen in North America. A good thing, especially for those of us who had very improbable childhood dreams of growing up to become ninjas. It all went to hell when Brett Ratner's 1998 buddy/action flick teamed the affable Chan with the barely tolerable Chris Tucker. It was, unfortunately, a humongous financial success, sending producers around the world in a scramble to try to recreate the Ratner film's formula. Rappers and second-rate comedians found themselves getting co-billed with action stars, in films which existed primarily to cash in on what was perceived to be a large urban/martial arts market that had previously been neglected. Rumble director Stanley Tong tried to get in on the act with China Strike Force - a movie hobbled by including a little too much "urban flava" in the form of a washed up rapper who can neither fight nor act.

Aaron Kwok and Lee-Hom Wang are a couple of Hong Kong cops out to bust up a drug smuggling ring led by Mark Dacascos and Coolio. Norika Fujiwara is the sexy deep cover cop who gets mixed up with both sides. Plot is secondary to action, and China Strike Force manages to deliver some fun in that department. The highlight here is a pretty tense car chase featuring a pair of race cars dueling around a speeding eighteen-wheeler. Tong is at his best when filming action scenes that require you to leave logic outside of the theater, but there isn't enough here to distract your attention away from the very ill-advised inclusion of Coolio as one of the lead villians. Coolio spends most of his screen time saying ridiculous things and generally just stinking up every scene he is featured in. I realize that you have to take these films with a grain of salt, but Coolio turns the cheese levels up so high that the movie becomes nearly unwatchable. I held out to the end thinking that Mark Dacascos, a very under rated action star who can actually fight, would take over when the film moved into its action-packed finale. Nope. Tong makes an unforgivable mistake by forcing Dacascos to play second banana, and giving the karate-challenged Coolio the coveted final fight scene. Or should I say Coolio's stunt double. Yes, it is that obvious.

Perhaps this film will get a special edition DVD release one day, giving viewers the option of watching the film in a "Coolio-free" version. I wouldn't hold my breath for that, nor would I recommend wasting any time or money on China Strike Force.

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