Vixen is a Lean and Entertaining Action-Thriller
written by Nathan Ludwig
Much like slasher films have an unconditional cult following, count me in the camp of those who worship at the altar of action cinema. Long before people were drooling over The Raid movies or John Wick, junkies of Asian action films like myself were getting our fixes wherever we could.
From SPL (Kill Zone) and Exiled to My Father is a Hero (aka The Enforcer) and even hidden gems like Vietnam's The Rebel, each first viewing was like a neuron-melting drug that I couldn’t stop craving. Having more in common with a musical than any other genre of film, the martial arts film should have a series of memorable fights (musical numbers) that build to an emotional finale. Each fight is a movement in the film which connects each scene and each act together in an opera of violence, as it were.
That brings us to Vixen (2018). You know this plot by now. A plucky protagonist trapped in a lock-down with a gang of international terrorists. Add fists, feet, and lots of guns and then shake vigorously. Voila! You have the martial arts thriller cocktail known as Die Hard.
I mean, Vixen.
Directed by veteran action cameraman Ross W. Clarkson, Vixen ticks off all of the boxes required for a Hong Kong action flick. An impossibly principled heroine, a gaggle of villains, high-tech doohickeys, and a dash of goofiness prevalent in most HK action cinema. Newcomer Lie-ri Chen stars as Lee, who's a cop attending an International Security Conference populated by a cast of globally-represented tough guy actors who would be right at home in a Sammo Hung film.
Before anything of substance can happen at the conference, a gang of renegades posing as the catering crew crash the party and hold everyone hostage. With the place on a mandatory lock-down until the conference is over, the killers have free reign to terrorize and leverage their victims without any serious repercussions. Out-manned and outgunned (kind of), Lee's only ally is her lazy ex-boyfriend via phone who hacks into the building's mainframe to guide her along her way. He's totally still in love with her, of course.
Everything in Vixen moves along at a brisk, no-fat pace. Actress Lie-ri Chen has very good screen presence and handles herself well in both action and dialogue scenes (when she's not forced to deliver lines in English).
The only thing that it could have used more of is actual action. It falls back more on the thriller aspect of an action/thriller and it feels like a missed opportunity since the director has worked on so many solid action flicks and could have really created some memorable fight sequences. The fights that are on display here are good, but woefully much too short to leave a lasting impact.
The film is written and produced by Bey Logan, the famed HK cinema producer and historian. It feels like Logan delivered a very standard, threadbare action script for a legend or an up-and-coming star to shine through in, but despite Chen's eagerness to impress, the film isn't really much of a highlight for anyone in particular.
While Vixen is an entertaining film, it’s also not very memorable. For a smaller budget HK action film, production values are solid and it's all very well cast, especially if you watch a lot of Eastern action cinema. My only wish was that they had gone for broke a little more in their action writing and staging. As it is, it feels like a tamer HK version of Van Damme's Sudden Death (minus the hockey backdrop, of course).
Vixen is distributed by DarkCoast and is now available on major streaming platforms. The images in this review were provided courtesy of TriCoast Worldwide.