Raid on the Lethal Zone

International Festival Premiere | In Competition

 

The past year has been especially fruitful for Herman Yau’s efforts in crime and action thrillers. Within just three months last summer, the director had four of them hit theatres, with Hong Kong stories The White Storm 3: Heaven or Hell and Death Notice leading the way. Arriving next was Raid on the Lethal Zone, which saw Yau apply his genre flair in a mainland production.

Based on a heavy 1992 crackdown on drug traffickers, Raid on the Lethal Zone’s story unfolds in July 1998, when the southwestern Chinese frontier region around the fictitious Meng City is being pummelled with rain. Emergency services are out in force as floodwaters rise and residents flee, and among the responders are Border Defense Force officers who risk being overwhelmed as they help keep order.

For drug traffickers, there’s opportunity in the combo of a natural disaster and distracted authorities. After a couple of crims try to surrender at a police station, the anti-narcotics team learns of a scheme led by one Boss Wang (Jiu Kong) to ship drugs in anti-flood sandbags. Border Defense’s Battalion 8077 is pressed into action to help narcotics officers, and this won’t be a case of just setting up roadblocks. The drug runners are highly organised and well armed, and what’s more there’s a gang of forest-dwelling thieves who have their eyes on the contraband too.

As with the best of Herman Yau’s ambitious action thrillers, the mid-budget Raid on the Lethal Zone charges through its initial setup with great efficiency. Key 8077 squad members and their leader, Sun Ji (Yu Haoming), are quickly introduced, and the risks of their operation are clear when they set off into the wilds. Just as the traffickers’ truck is reached by both the authorities and motorbike-riding bandits, a mudslide strikes and leaves only a small crew of officers able to soldier on. What follows are heroics as the team contends with a string of obstacles. Old action-adventure chestnuts like quicksand, landmines and hanging by vines off a precipice make appearances, and the top danger is the impending release of water from a dam, threatening not just the operation but entire cities downstream.

Fans of Yau’s work know he’s one for pulling off resourceful action pictures, stretching budgets to pile on sensational attractions. Raid on the Lethal Zone, made for mainland streamer iQIYI, is a smaller production than, say, the director’s Shock Wave films, but it still runs the gamut from gun battles to vehicle stunts without letting up, and goes big on its disaster scenes. The film’s huge landslip impresses, the shots of urban flooding use clever set construction and classy effects, and there’s even a car chase in a flash flood. The 8077 officers are unswervingly resolute, as should be expected in a mainland Chinese film about public security forces (“No one is born brave; they choose to be fearless” goes a choice line), but Yau’s direction is so focused on driving the story forward that there’s little room for flag waving. It’s the action and personal heroics that take centre stage in Raid on the Lethal Zone, and on that front Yau once more shows why he’s now Hong Kong’s top exponent of big-screen thrills.

Tim Youngs
Film director: Herman YAU
Year: 2023
Running time: 108'
Country: China
01/05 - 8:30 AM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
01-05-2024 8:30 01-05-2024 10:18Europe/Rome Raid on the Lethal Zone Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org

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