Like a well-oiled machine, Motorway is one experience action lovers simply cannot pass up.
Motorway by Pou-Soi Cheang is ferocious. Full of more testosterone than all 5 of the Fast and Furious films combined, the film never stops for a second. Cheang’s film is filled to the brim with exciting car chases; one after another after another. The film is barely 90 minutes but it does not waste not a single minute. Motorway knows what it wants to accomplish and does it with great style. This is the most fun I’ve had watching a film since Headhunters.
The film is about a secretive unit of cops, known as the Stealth Riders, who are comprised of the best drivers Hong Kong has to offer. Their job is to take down getaway drivers and street gangs or anything involving high speed chases. The newest member of this clique is Cheung. He’s young and very stubborn. We are introduced to Cheung during a routine stop that turns into a pursuit that ultimately ends badly for him. Cheung is ripped apart by his superior after this incident and subsequently partnered with the oldest guy in the squad, Lo. He’s played by Hong Kong film legend Anthony Wong.
Within the first few days of his new job Cheung runs into (literally) Jiang, the most legendary getaway driver Hong Kong has ever seen. Jiang is one of those mystical villains who comes and goes with the fog. Thus begins a big and brilliant chase through the city’s streets. Miraculously, Cheung is able to nab Sun. But was that Jiang’s intentions? As soon as Jiang is thrown into jail he begins an audacious escape with a fellow prisoner in tow. I’ve pretty much described the first 30-40 minutes of the film. What follows is literally one chase scene after another, each subsequent chase outdoing the one previous.
One of the best scenes of the film consists of Lo teaching Cheung the tricks of turning a car through a tight alleyway. He is forced to do this because in an earlier scene Jiang gets away from Cheung in an alley with a 90 degree turn. Cheung tries to figure out himself with some orange cones before Lo throws down his cigarette and shows him how it’s done.
On a technical level, Motorway is outstanding. Cheang is able to show a connection with man and his automobile that I’ve rarely seen before on screen. Granted I’m not a big car guy, so I haven’t seen a ton of these films, but I’ve seen my fair share. Some of my favorite shots are inserts of knuckles getting whiter and tighter around steering wheels, feet hitting pedals as men shift their cars violently.
Cheung shoots some scenes in a series of montages of slow zoom in’s. Whether they are clinched fists around the wheel, tires screeching as clouds of smoke rise from behind the cars or engines revving, the montages raising the ante. All of these shots edited together create insurmountable tension. I see no reason why this film shouldn’t be an action cult classic in a few years’ time. Motor heads especially are going to love this film.
Cheang’s direction never loses the plot. It’s never intrusive or draws attention to itself. Free from the film are ‘shaky cam’ shots that tend to ruin action movies. Cheang’s camera sits back and catches all the action, easily allowing the audience to watch everything clearly. In some shots the camera is fixed onto the cars as they drive, creating a reverse third person view.
Motorway’s sound mix is exquisitely well done. Gone is any annoying rock music or a loud crashing score. Instead the film is replaced with a quiet electronic score that only heightens the film’s tautness. Think of the opening scenes of Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive, where he uses The Chromatics’ “Tick of the Clock”, but for 90 minutes. Other than loud engines and screeching tires, the soundtrack is relatively quiet. I loved how Cheang controlled this aspect.
Like Drive, this film has its characters keeping their emotions in check. That’s not to say the acting isn’t good, because it is. What the actors succeed at is getting their emotions across through their faces and blank stares rather than words and exaggerated emotions. Some scenes you can see hesitations from Lo and Cheung and you realize that there is something from their past that makes them so hesitant. Its little things like this that separate films like Drive and Motorway from the rest.
All this brings us to the film’s finale, which is spectacularly ridiculous. Jiang is trying to escape a massive parking ramp with his package and a fleet of cop cars have him trapped. Or so they think. The film turns into a cat and mouse hunt with cars as Jiang vehemently tries to escape Cheung’s grasp from one level of the parking ramp to another. The final 30 minutes are exhilarating. Some parts of the finale almost had me out of my seat cheering.
Overall, Motorway is one hell of an efficient action picture. Expertly directed and very well acted. It creates an ominous atmosphere that never lets go of the audience and shows a deep connection between a man and his automobile that is rarely seen in film. Fans of Fast and Furious, Drive, Heat and Gone in Sixty Seconds will love a picture like this. Like a well-oiled machine, Motorway is one experience action lovers simply cannot pass up.