Violence, sex galore

Gongfu star Michelle Yeoh (above) adds to the action in Strike Back and Liev Shreiber is Ray Donovan.
Gongfu star Michelle Yeoh (above) adds to the action in Strike Back and Liev Shreiber is Ray Donovan.PHOTO: HBO ASIA
Gongfu star Michelle Yeoh adds to the action in Strike Back and Liev Shreiber (above) is Ray Donovan.
Gongfu star Michelle Yeoh adds to the action in Strike Back and Liev Shreiber (above) is Ray Donovan.PHOTO: FX

Both Strike Back and Ray Donovan feature a lot of action

The casting of Michelle Yeoh in Strike Back tells you everything you need to know about the final season of the action series.

Let's face it, the gongfu-fighting star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star isn't exactly known for her dramatic talents. While she might not be able to act her way out of a paper bag, she can certainly pulverise that bag with a few straight-leg kicks - and look hot while doing it.

That sums up the appeal of the mindlessly entertaining Strike Back, which follows two handsome secret agents as they take on terrorists, mercenaries and rogue officials across the globe.

Its storylines - which chart the adventures of sergeants Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) of the covert British intelligence unit Section 20 - use topical conflicts and political controversies as launch points, but rarely dwell on them for long.

Instead, the emphasis is on white-knuckle car chases, bone-crunching fist fights, blood-soaked gun battles and an astonishing tally of gratuitous sex scenes.


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But even if you are not a fan of the genre, there is much to delight here, especially as this new season kicks off in Thailand, where Scott and Stonebridge have to rescue the daughter of the British ambassador, who has been kidnapped for leverage as her father negotiates a nuclear weapons deal with North Korea.

As with previous seasons, Strike Back has gone on location to create sumptuous action sequences with high-spec production values - the sort of thing you would expect in a Bond film rather than a television show.

If you have ever experienced Bangkok from the back of a tuk-tuk and wondered why more high- speed chases are not filmed in this gloriously chaotic city, the start of the season will remedy that, as will the luscious backdrop of smoky temples and steaming night markets.

Better to focus on these than the action itself, which is otherwise nothing special.

The supporting cast is often embarrassingly cartoonish too - a gold-toothed tuk-tuk driver, a corrupt Thai cop and a cold- blooded Yakuza scion among the worst offenders. The non-Asian bit players do not fare much better, so at the very least, it is equal- opportunity stereotyping.

Once in a while, though, someone delivers a zinging one-liner, which greatly leavens the wooden dialogue and ludicrous plot. The bro-tastic banter between Scott and Stonebridge is also reliably charming, the two leads displaying genuine chemistry and charisma.

For returning fans, the season will deliver some important character development and closure. Scott, the serial womaniser, has to confront the teenage son he hardly knows and will contemplate settling down with Sergeant Julia Richmond (played by British-Singaporean actress Michelle Lukes).

Again, none of this is groundbreaking, but the show has pulled off the action formula so effectively and consistently that many will be sorry to see it end.

Ray Donovan is another show that features an awful lot of sex and violence, albeit deployed far more thoughtfully.

As the crime drama embarks on its third season, the death and injury count is steadily growing, but just as dark are the heart-rending family dynamics underpinning it all. At the centre of it is Ray Donovan, (Liev Schreiber), a professional "fixer" who does whatever it takes to get his rich and famous clients out of sticky situations.

But this tortured tough guy is often helpless when it comes to saving his own family from the pernicious influence of its patriarch Mickey, the charming ex-convict played by Jon Voight in a performance that won him the 2013 Golden Globe.

In Season 3, Mickey continues to wreak havoc on his sons' lives: Terry (Eddie Marsan) is rotting in jail after taking the fall for a botched robbery Mickey planned; Daryll (Pooch Hall) is drawn into another of Mickey's schemes; and Ray and Bunchy (Dash Mihok) are still dealing with the effects of being neglected as children and abused by their priests.

Mickey then hatches another ill-conceived idea to get Terry out of jail, which produces a fresh mess for Ray to clean up, at considerable personal cost.

The show skilfully blends humour with this pathos - your heart breaks at Bunchy's doomed attempt to find love with a woman whose child reminds him of the abuse, but you laugh at his pitiful online dating profile.

Another asset are the fine performances by the cast, who bring these flawed but sympathetic characters to life. You almost forgive Mickey for drowning an abusive pimp as he sweetly dotes on the daughter of one of his prostitutes and it is hard not to chuckle at his rationalisation that "technically, the water killed the pimp".

Joining the ensemble this season is Katie Holmes, who is convincing as the unpredictable daughter of a ruthless billionaire Ray ends up working for.

When she tricks him into double-crossing the husband of a woman her client slept with, Ray has an exchange with the cuckolded man that turns into an unexpected commentary on race and class - something the series also does well.

The family drama is so emotionally draining that the show must surely provide some relief from it this season. The Donovans cannot endure this despair indefinitely, and neither can viewers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Violence, sex galore'. Print Edition | Subscribe