Plot: 100 contestants, 3 locations, 1 winner. Let the games begin.
In lieu of Mermaid Team (美人魚戰隊) (2018) and/or Rescue (絕色營救) (2019) not yet having spawned their expected sequels due to the pandemic it’s up to the little guys to stick it out until the big names make their return. That next best thing might very well be Run Amuck (橫行霸道) from directorial tag-team Qin Peng-Fei and Liu Xiao. If one was to wager a guess we probably wouldn’t be too far off to assume that the two are fans of the Lu Yun-Fei (路云飞) Girls with Guns oeuvre. The Mainland China webmovie market is rife with female-centric action (either in the regular or science-fiction variant) and Run Amuck is mercifully a cut above the competition in any number of ways. The shoot-outs are energetic and well choreographed, the explosions are big, and the humor is on-point. All four leads are easy on the eyes and can act better than most. Judging by the open-ending this is meant to launch a franchise. Here’s hoping that it does.
The most prestigious and nationally televised e-sports event is the national finale of the virtual reality massively multiplayer online first-person shooter game (MMOFPS) Run For Your Life. Every year 100 contestants compete to be anoited China’s best player, win the grand prize of 10-million RMB and the vaunted ticket to the world championship. Before partaking in said world championship the winning team will undergo rigorous training at the boot camp under AK Empress (Clara Lee Ching-Man). Zhang Ying-Xun (Fang Yan) is the reigning national champion currently standing undefeated. He’s a celebrity in his own right and adored by thousands. Also competing are four girls from different walks of life: Shen Yue (Zhang Hao-Yue) is supposed to honor her mother’s wishes and get her degree in medicine. She has failed most of her exams and ranks as the eternal n° 2 in Run For Your Life. She’s a former protégée of Zhang Ying-Xun and he’s none too pleased with her decision to go solo. Da Xiao (Chen Yu-Wei) heads up her own one-woman driving company Xiaoxiao Driving and needs the money to reimburse for an unfortunate road collision. Wang Jia-Nan (Yuan Ling-Yan) might look like your average superficial fashionista but she has enrolled to take revenge on her ex-lover Wang Xiao-Fei (Qiang Lei), an avid player of the game. Lastly, Fu Xiao-Fei (Monroe Zhang Meng-Lu) has no mentionworthy skills in either the real world or the virtual one, has bluffed (or grifted) her way into the game, and hopes that winning the game will usher in a reversal of fortune for her and her family. She clearly is in deep water in more ways than she can wrap her cute little head around.
After the computer randomly selects 25 teams of 4-person crews each of the girls end up on the same team. The contestants are parachuted into the first battle arena and after the initital exchange of gunfire and the resulting skirmish three major teams emerge. First, there’s Zhang Ying-Xun and his three dead-weight no-name superfans. Second, there’s Wang Xiao-Fei and his trio of bumbling idiots and lastly, there’s Shen Yue and her girls. Everybody is in awe of Shen Yue - better known by her handle The Sniper Queen - a lonewolf and expert markswoman who immediately exhibits excellent leadership skills. Da Xiao is a master strategist and currently employed well below her skill level as designated chief of transport. Wang Jia-Nan excels at close combat and skirmishes but her quick-to-anger temper and impatience often will have her walking into obvious traps and killboxes. That, and she has a bone to pick with her ex-lover Wang Xiao-Fei. Fu Xiao-Fei has no experience in the game but loves the collectables and shows a talent for hoarding loot; be they health potions, grenades, or power-ups. When Fu Xiao-Fei accidently blows up the team and they respawn in a different location on the first map with only the basic weapons and equipment Shen Yue is frustrated and angrily divests herself from the team. Distraught and panicked Wang Jia-Nan, Da Xiao, and Fu Xiao-Fei bravely do battle in pursuit of Shen Yue. Will they able to convince The Sniper Queen to rejoin their ranks – and will they be able to overcome their own shortcomings and interpersonal differences to become the four-woman wrecking crew they are destined to be?
Everything comes full circle. What is Run Amuck if not a bit of Mainland China straight-to-VOD action fluff reimagining Battle Royale (2000) as a fictional virtual reality e-sports event that is one part eXistenZ (1999) and one part The Expendables (2010-2014)? To its everlasting credit Run Amuck goes full-on with the videogame allusions as the different contestants can be seen scrambling for ammo, power-ups, and as the game progresses the girls modify their avatars and their weapons, and level up their skills by farming for experience points. Each girl displays a specific talent and if they learn to work together and combine their talents they will become undefeatable. At one point Zhang Ying-Xun can be found camping, but he’s summarily blown up by his bumbling idiot team members for his infraction. Thankfully there’s no sewer level but the girls either run into or lay traps themselves. Fallen contestants turn into loot boxes and when these lie out in the open surely there must be enemies ahead. Of course there’s a vehicular combat level and to get to a rendez-vous point the girls not only need to ward off swarming enemies but have to cross the bombing area connecting the two. To the surprise of absolutely nobody Wang Jia-Nan is trapped by her former lover prompting Fu Xiao-Fei to manifest incredible bravery to save any and all of her teammates. The final duel involves (what else?) a tank. As convention dictates there’s a bickering comic relief commentator duo, ostensibly modeled after Junior Bruce from Death Race 2000 (1975). The girls (Zhang Hao-Yue, Chen Yu-Wei, and Yuan Ling-Yan to a lesser degree) in true Sino tradition brandish vertigo-inducing cleavage and fashionable (half) cornrow haircuts (Chen Yu-Wei and Monroe Zhang Meng-Lu).
The star of Run Amuck is Zhang Hao-Yue (张昊玥) and she has the makings of a new Chrissie Chau Sau-Na (周秀娜). Whether she’ll become the next Ni Ni (倪妮), Yu Nan (余男), or Fan Bin-Bing (范冰冰) and crossover into the English-speaking world remains yet to be seen. Chen Yu-Wei (陈雨薇) is an actress in the Daniella Wang Li Danni (王李丹妮), Pan Chun-Chun (潘春春), Miki Zhang Yi-Gui (张已桂), and Yang Ke (杨可) mold but she’s far better equipped in terms of acting ability, physical and otherwise. Monroe Zhang Meng-Lu (张梦露) could become one of China’s new comedy superstars if her performance here is any indication. More importantly, all four leads clearly have chemistry and it would be criminal not to use that to the fullest extent. That said the ladies wouldn’t have anything to work with were it not for the action direction from Ge Xiang-Long and pyrotechnics and special effects work from Chai Man-Ting. The choreography is servicable although hardly spectacular by Chinese standards (which means it’s still leagues above Hollywood on average) and judging by the amount of different locations, vehicles, weapons, and the varying sizes of the explosions there clearly was quite some money behind Run Amuck. That Run Amuck isn’t as subtextually rich as Battle Royale (2000) was expected. Hopefully the proposed sequel will have a chance to explore some of that besides the obligatory explosions. In anticipation of Lu Yun-Fei’s fourth Chinese Expendables entry, this will do.