Contrasting the stillness of a hunter's life with the commensurate chaos of a military man's, Lianfeng (Peter Ho) is patiently waiting to drop a boar when a fighter plane crashes into his perch. It's the first of many major contrivances that brand Cold Steel as little more than a saccharine slab of ham-fisted fiction.
Lianfeng rescues the pilot and brings him back to his village to recuperate. The grateful pilot gives his saviour some tips on shooting under pressure and a wild vacillation in the music tells us that we're now watching a whimsical buddy comedy. Emboldened by his new military mentor, Lianfeng stands up to a group of soldiers harassing the attractive young widow who runs the local tea shop, and after a Scarface-quoting knife fight, the young hunter is arrested.
Fate's heavy hand comes into play again when the convoy he's being held captive in comes under fire from a Japanese sniper and Lianfeng must use his newly augmented prowess with a rifle to save the day. As thanks, the reluctant young man is forced to join the army at gunpoint where, despite the nature of his enlistment, he quickly warms to his position as sniper in an elite assassination task force.
From here, the film jumps between blue-tinted action scenes, as the squad get into extensive firefights with the occupying Japanese army, and bland drama accented by a maudlin score so overblown it renders every emotional exchange impotent or laughable. Scattered between these extremes are odd bits of off-the-cuff nationalistic humour – "I need a gun to protect my mom from the Japs!" exclaims a little boy, after seeing Lianfeng wield some highly fetishized steel – and the fractured tangents of a drastically underdeveloped subplot involving a Japanese nurse and her military lover.
Ostensibly, Cold Steel is about how killing for a living will make a man's heart go "cold as steel," but it comes across as a racist and sexist propaganda piece oozing with a love of status and a deeply sexualized affection for weaponry. The best that can be said for this hack job is that it doesn't shy away from the brutality of war.
Cold Steel screens on Saturday November 10th at 10:45pm at the Royal theatre. (Hangdian World Studios)