The Viral Factor (2012)
Director: Dante Lam
Writers: Dante Lam, Candy Leung, and Wai Lun Ng
Starring: Jay Chou, Nicholas Tse, and Ling Peng

The Plot: The Viral Factor begins by introducing the audience to a scientist who has developed an even more lethal version of the smallpox virus. His mutated strain of the virus is sought as a new biological weapon, but Interpol agent Jon May (Jay Chou) has been sent in with his crew to secure the scientist. Things go wrong on this mission, however, and Jon is sent to the hospital with a bullet lodged in his brain while the scientist is captured by Jon’s rogue teammate Sean (Andy On). Jon doesn’t have much time left, as the bullet is slowly creeping into his brain, but he decides that he must get out there and put an end to whatever evil plans Sean may have for this deadly virus. After an outbreak of the virus points Interpol towards Malaysia, Jon finds himself once again traveling out of the country. In Malaysia, Jon tracks down his long-lost father who is now apparently crippled. There’s even more news though, it turns out that Jon actually has a brother. Man Cheung (Nicholas Tse) has been a small-time gangster for nearly his entire life, and although he apparently wants to do the right thing, he is soon caught up in Sean’s nefarious plans. Will blood prove to be thicker than water for these two brothers, or will Sean get away with his disastrous plans?

The Review
Dante Lam is a name that jumped into my immediate attention after first discovering Fire of Conscience. While Fire of Conscience may not have been revolutionary in its appeal, it is a film that I personally find quite amazing. Sure, it has its problems, but as far as new Hong Kong action goes, there are few films that I find as entertaining. There are certainly differing schools of thought when it comes to Dante Lam’s newschool form of action cinema, but so far I have been quite impressed with the work he has done. These films take the classic energy of Hong Kong action cinema from the past, but infuses that style with a very Hollywood approach. While the sleek production values might turn off some purists, I find it to be a solid form of progress. If I can’t have a thriving Hong Kong film industry that is packed with hundreds of competitive action movies that all target the same demographic, then I will settle for a “bigger” version of what came before. The Viral Factor is certainly a action’er that takes influence from the Hollywood machine, but it sidesteps the pitfalls of predictability/boredom and instead delivers an entertaining story with some tremendous action along the way.

The first thing that grabs me about the film is the vast scale that it looks to encompass. Featuring a visual style that is incredibly polished, the movie looks absolutely stunning. In its high definition form on my bluray player, the movie looks absolutely mindblowing at times. From the stunning view of the ocean that starts off the film, a scene which includes some digital effects at the bottom of the sea, we can see that this is a title that will take its audience into new areas. Immediately after this deep-water sequence, the movie takes us to the Middle East and the country of Jordan. You know that Hong Kong cinema has truly stepped its game up when you can see globe-hopping adventures like this one, and The Viral Factor is definite proof that Hong Kong can rival the Hollywood machine in many ways. The film develops as a spy thriller of sorts during the first half, and the procedural nature of the movie allows for it to quickly establish a huge scope. Indeed, procedural titles have really taken hold in Hong Kong cinema within recent years, and if you’re a fan of this genre then you are bound to find a lot of things that you will like in this feature. The Viral Factor is not quite identical to movies like PTU or Election (a film about criminals, but it is still very procedural in its nature), but it could be seen as a military version of similar ideas. A story centered around a dangerous line of work where we get to know the people who perform this duty/job? Sounds pretty familiar, no doubt. However, somewhere in the middle of this film we move away from “the job” and instead start to focus on the characters, and this is partly where the movie finds its strength.

There’s a very palpable dynamic between Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse who play our two main characters. Once the film reaches the pivotal moment where these two men become the main focus of the story, the film begins to hinge on their charisma and personalities. While I am no expert on either actor, I must admit that I enjoy them both in this film. Chou is better known as a pop star and a pretty boy for the most part, but in The Viral Factor we see him rocking a five-o’clock-shadow throughout the majority of the film while also acting out some risky on-screen violence. Nicholas Tse is an actor that I have had more history with, but to be honest I have rarely regarded him as a memorable leading man. There’s something about his youthful looks that have always made it difficult for me to consider him an onscreen threat or presence. The Viral Factor probably isn’t the single movie that is going to change this for me, but seeing him in a fairly rough action film like this one, where he can get his hands a little dirty, is probably going to make him more recognizable to me. Afterall, this is a far way away from his turns in Time and Tide (which is one of my favorites) or Gen-X Cops. At this point in his career, Tse is actually a veteran actor. Although The Viral Factor isn’t a showcase for his dramatic talents, it does show a different side of his persona than I had ever seen before, and I can appreciate the slight twists that it manages to provide along the way.

The action is as plentiful as one might expect. However, if you’ve come into this expecting fluid and beautiful fight choreography, then you will have to adjust your expectations beforehand. This modern Hong Kong thriller isn’t all that concerned with martial arts or traditional choreography, but instead focuses on a much more brutal and contemporary form of action. The fight scenes are quick, dirty, and they focus on the realistic brawling sensibility of a real street fight. Only, with a bit more of a Kung Fu influence, of course. Along with the martial arts and fight scenes, there are also action sequences that are much more Hollywood than one might normally suspect. With a massive heist sequence that resembles the immortal bank shootout from Heat, and then a proceeding car chase that jumps into the realm of the ridiculous, this is a title that certainly looks to step its game up from simply being a fun little thriller. After this introductory shootout/chase sequence, the film seems to be one large spectacle right after the other. The Viral Factor is certainly dependent on the investment that the audience has in the characters who inhabit the story, but for the most part these characters and their individual goals have been well established at this point. After we realize the stakes, both in terms of the plot and the emotional effect that the twists will have on our two leads, the film deals with the insane tension and pace that the movie hopes to establish. The Viral Factor is able to have its audience gritting their teeth with anticipation because the action is relentless and the film never takes us out of danger.

The Conclusion
The Viral Factor is a title that I could have never expected to enjoy this much. I would say that if you love Hong Kong cinema and you don’t mind a polished production that has some high concept sensibilities behind it, then you must search this one out. The bluray from Well Go USA is fantastic and it comes with a great behind-the-scenes documentary as well. The movie receives a four out of five rating from me and it is certainly worth searching out!

Screencaps grabbed from!

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