For the consummate speed car racer, what better way to drive at high velocity and challenging other speedsters while at it, than to be sanctioned for flooring the gas pedal and not get a speeding ticket at the end. I suppose it's a dream calling if one gets to go over to the side of the law as a traffic cop, put in a special unit given souped up, nondescript and unmarked cars, in efforts to take on other speeding road users by surprise. I know I would sign up immediately.
Shawn Yue goes back to being a racer from his Initial D days, playing Chan Cheung, an impetuous rookie in the traffic police's "Invisible Squad" team. His ride is an Audi A4, going after other souped up cars and their owners careening down the roads of Hong Kong. He's like a bulldog, always determined to get his mark even if they drive more powerful cars, and in his off hours, put in more time to spruce up his own private ride, to go after those that got away in what would be a slight vigilantism effort.
But racer in the night and cop in the day Chan does have his flaws and meets his match in driver Jiang Xin (Guo Xiaodong), who can be described as being in a similar mold to the driver in Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive, being the crime partner of Huang Zhong (Sam Lee), but having no interest in the latter's schemes other than to be the designated driver to get them out of tight situations. He has a penchant to rev things up into a smokescreen, and then maneuvering through what would be an extreme drift technique to rotate the car while almost stationery. A hard trick to master, that gets every pursuing car into a frenzy, coupled with having no qualms at bumper-car-ing any vehicle to shake them off as well.
The highlight of the film is naturally the car chases, which varies from busy narrow streets to the winding routes up and down a mountain trail. They are all beautifully shot and the chases will keep you on the edge of your seat, with deft-defying moves that you'd never thought possible to be executed with a moving vehicle, from slight nudges to full on battles using the car as a weapon of choice. Your adrenaline will be kept pumping each time the stunts shift into high gear, keeping the shots tight and often putting you in the driver's, or co-driver's seat for that first person perspective.
And it's not all loud crashes that pepper the soundscape, but with wonderful music by Alex Gopher and Xavier Jamaux providing rather soothing car tunes to accompany quieter moments, before going for the more punchy, aggressive notes when the narrative gets on its mark to roll in another major action sequence. What made this Soi Cheang film engaging besides the action, are the characters put into the fray. A Milkyway co-production, we get the usual suspects in Lam Kar Tung and Josie Ho playing police head honchos who are almost always a few steps behind the main antagonist, with this, pardon the pun, being clearly a Shawn Yue vehicle, and the evergreen Anthony Wong being Yue's partner in the police force. Barbie Hsu becomes the blip on the radar though with a needless role that's decorative at best, to keep Motorway from being too testosterone laden.
It may be laughable, but the way the story by Joey O'Bryan and Szeto Kam-Yuen had conjured may be a little bit reverent to the Star Wars saga, with the final arc being quite reminiscent of a would be rebel receiving very brief, though effective, training from a more experienced hire, and finally showing his weight in gold. This is Hong Kong's answer to the sleek and cool Drive, and the result is something just as sexy in the crime genre, with brooding hero, and plenty of horsepower hidden under its hood. Highly recommended, and going into my shortlist as one of this year's best! Pretty certain I'll be picking up the DVD to watch this in its original Cantonese language track.