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The Detective

     

(left) Aaron Kwok on the phone, and (right) Kwok grills Elle Choi in The Detective.

Chinese: C+偵探
Year: 2007  
Director: Oxide Pang Chun
Producer: Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang Fat
Cast: Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Liu Kai-Chi, Shing Fui-On, Kiki Sheung Tin-Ngor, Lau Siu-Ming, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Elle Choi (Siu Suet), Jo Koo, Kenny Wong Tak-Bun
The Skinny: Better than your usual Pang Brothers film, which means it's actually not bad at all. Effective style, a decent story, and a good performance from Aaron Kwok make this a solid commercial film. Much better than either Forest of Death or The Messengers.
 
Review
by Kozo:

The Pang Brothers return to form. Or at least they deliver a movie that doesn't squander its potential. The once-acclaimed wunderkind filmmakers have seen their stock steadily decline since 2002's The Eye, what with that film's uninspiring sequels, plus the Pangs' solo projects which alternately intrigue and infuriate. Directed by Oxide Pang, The Detective manages to intrigue but not infuriate, and uses the tried-and-true Pang style for a mostly refreshing genre experience unlike what one usually sees from the Pang Brothers. Add in a sweaty and entertaining performance by Aaron Kwok, the trademark messy-beautiful Pang Brothers look, an oddly effective discordant soundtrack, and a decent story, and you have a solid, if not spectacular commercial film that seems pretty darn good because most Hong Kong movies aren't anymore. There's not much here that's very new, but that's okay because originality is hard to come by. It's all relative over here, and relatively speaking, The Detective is a fine little movie.

Aaron Kwok stars as Tam, a rumpled, nearsighted detective in Thailand who's not as much seedy as he is simply sloppy. Tam could have been a cop, but his poor vision has relegated him to a private dick that follows adulterers and other assorted minor rule-breakers. His new case, however, is a doozy. Freaked-out acquaintance Lung (Shing Fui-On) shows up and is willing to pay whatever price Tam requires for him to find a woman named Sum. Lung maintains that Sum is trying to kill him, and provides a single photo for him to begin his investigation. Tam happily takes the case, and begins to investigate, leading to a deepening mystery that only gets murkier as he progresses. First of all, nobody has seemingly seen Sum in days, and each new lead Tam follows usually uncovers a dead body or possible mortal danger. The discoveries are related in the usual Pang bombastic fashion, meaning loud drum beats, sometimes surprising shock cuts, and twitchy camera movements meant to amp up the suspense.

The style works, because unlike older Pang efforts, the tension isn't created by some ghost that's usually harmless, but by the discovery of dead bodies or sudden physical danger that could put Tam in the hospital, or worse. Oxide Pang effectively puts the audience inside Tam's shoes, using copious style to convey the tension and even paranoia Tam must be feeling. Aiding matters is Aaron Kwok, whose jaunty demeanor and popstar smile are used to create a character who's less clever than he pretends to be, and may ultimately be somewhat of a dork. Tam is an earnest, but not very smart detective, as he frequently finds himself in danger, or simply bothering the cops too much, as pointed out by cop friend Chak (the entertaining Liu Kai-Chi). The Chinese title of the film translates as "C+ Detective", which is also Cantonese wordplay for "Private Detective", telling you pretty much all there is to know about Tam. He's not very successful, a detail elucidated by his backstory, involving the disappearance of his parents and how he was never able to find them. His current vocation is due largely to this troubled past, and though the ensuing years haven't brought much success, he's still trying. The idea here is that the deepening mystery will bring understanding and even redemption of Tam's character. If Tam is lucky, he'll solve the case too.

Still, despite the generous territory covered by the film's screenplay, the character of Tam isn't connected to the film's mystery in a convincing manner. There's an attempt to give Tam a personal stake in the case, but details seem tacked on. Ultimately, The Detective is less substance than style - though the style seems to be enough to tide us through this time. Unlike other style-over-substance Pang Brothers works, The Detective doesn't provide out-of-nowhere twists or left-field surprises that undermine what came before, and manages to stay on-track with the film's narrative. Oxide Pang keeps the film moving in entertaining fashion, delivering red herrings and quirky characters in quick succession. Jo Koo has a brief part as a sexed-up suspect, and appearances by all sorts of Hong Kong entertainment faces, including the long-missing Elle Choi, former TVB starlet Kiki Sheung, current TVB fixture Lai Yiu-Cheung, and Big Sillyhead himself, Shing Fui-On, add to the fun factor. The investigation itself is a lot of Aaron Kwok staring at photos, writing on a chalkboard, or keying through his mobile phone, but Kwok makes the character work by never overacting, and frequently allows his entertaining wardrobe and apparent ineptness upstage him. Let it be said: Aaron Kwok is now worth watching in Hong Kong movies. This may not have been true before Divergence, but it's certainly true now - acting awards or not. Kwok probably shouldn't get an acting award for The Detective, but that's more a fault of the material than the actor himself.

As a Pang Brothers production, The Detective is a step in the right direction as it mostly deviates from their previous genres. The film may even fool some viewers who aren't expecting any sort of twists, though truthfully, some details are a bit muddled. The film has a rather intricate series of events that don't entirely hold up under scrutiny, and Oxide Pang seemingly knows this, adding a couple of flashbacks at the end of the film to explain things more clearly. The problem is that this extra detail makes the film drag unnecessarily, plus there are still many events in the film that remain ambiguous. The result is a film that's more of a ride than a complete experience, but Oxide Pang puts together a very enjoyable ride, from the manipulated tension to his dirty, meticulously art-directed vision of Thailand. This isn't the next coming of The Eye, but for Hong Kong commercial film, it's a solid piece of work. Together and on their own, the Pangs have made numerous missteps during their prolific filmography, but they undeniably have filmmaking talent. The Detective at least reminds us of that. (Kozo 2007)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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