For the action movie lover, a staple that’s always a favourite is the “rumble-in-the-jungle” kind of action-adventure. Missing in Action, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Predator… the kind where a group of tough, hardened military guys go on a mission deep into enemy territory, preferably tropical, and stir some chaos up to complete the mission. Operation Mekong, a Hong Kong offering directed by Dante Lam, follows the mold, but not enough to be great, I have to say.
The film’s plot revolves around true events that occurred in October 2011, when two Chinese cargo ships were hijacked by river pirates and murdered all occupants abroad. This incident occurred on the Mekong River in The Golden Triangle – an area covering the triple-border of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos that houses massive production of opium, drugs and other vices run by a plethora of crime lords. Naturally, the Chinese government gets pissed, and set up an elite task force, fictionally led in the film by a Chinese narcotics officer (Zhang Hanyu) and an undercover intelligence agent (Eddie Peng), to take these scumbags down.
This has grounds to be a great action film by itself, yet Lam betrays its potential with his trademark overtly-flashy action sequences that would make even Michael Bay blush. The action for the first two-thirds of the film is pure OTT Hong Kong action stuff – foot chases, car chases with RPGs, gratuitous slow-motion, CGI zoom-ins, it’s all mostly standard Hong Kong action fare, though the presences of Zhang and Peng more than liven up the action as they give it their all. Even if a Mercedes Benz speeds inside a Thai mall, and brings back memories of The Blues Brothers more than Invasion U.S.A.
The villains are in the usual HK action mold, of being completely two-dimensional and OTT simultaneously. There are two major villains here and both of them are played by Thai actors – a Scarface-wannabe played by Pawalit Mongkolpisit (the mute lead in the 1999 original Bangkok Dangerous) who hams it up big time, and a subtler, better albiet flat crime kingpin played by character actor Vithaya Pansringarm (the villain in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, though you gents may have seen him more in Ninja: Shadow of a Tear and Mechanic: Resurrection in bit roles).
The film’s final third is where things get much better as the real operation starts, in a gigantic action sequence that lasts for about 20 minutes. After showing off the Chinese military’s tech and gear, lots of people get shot and drug huts explode in high style, positively reminding me of Predator and Rambo II. Then, Lam outdoes himself, and culminates the sequence in an explosive boat chase in what I am 100% sure is a reference to/rip-off of Missing in Action, which then slightly undoes itself with the usual shoddy CGI. Comes with the territory for China/Hong Kong films nowadays.
Indeed, Lam’s style makes the believable unbelievable numerous times, specifically the last scene involving a beloved dog, that even I find overtly on-the-nose. The film could have worked with a little more lean-and-mean grittiness, but Zhang and Peng make for a capable action due, and when the action hits, it hits quite hard. It’s another one of those films that is proudly jingoistic, but, again, there is a lot left to be desired, too.