Depth, thy name is not Jingle Ma. A cop buddy flick starring pretty young men Shawn Yue and Aloys Chen, Playboy Cops initially seems like fluff for fluff's sake. Jingle Ma directed this presumably vapid action-comedy, which looks to target teen girls as its primary audience. At least, that's what the poster, cast, and spiffy Jingle Ma cinematography would seem to indicate. In truth, Playboy Cops mixes new and old Hong Kong Cinema in a sometimes effective, though questionably tasteful way. The new stuff: younger actors, Mainland investment and talent, a commercial premise, and a clean vision of Hong Kong that borders on sterile. The old stuff: sometimes out-of-place action, clichéd pathos, and such a blatant disregard for consistency or expectations that one could wonder if they walked into the wrong theater. Playboy Cops ends up a lot different than the "We're pretty and we kick ass!" poster would seem to indicate. If that sounds like a spoiler to you, then stop reading now.
Still around? Here goes, then. Playboy Cops is a hard film to describe, and not because it has a surprising or accomplished story. In fact, the paper-thin premise that passes for a plot in Playboy Cops is incredibly shallow and unbelievable, and wouldn't pass muster as a B-grade direct-to-video flick, much less a major theatrical release. Shawn Yue is Michael Mak, a "Playboy Cop" because he's the son of a rich tycoon who fights crimes with money. He pays way too much money for information, bribes people out of committing crimes, and uses wads of $1000 bills to lure bad guys into the slammer. Occasionally he kicks ass, too. Michael possesses a righteous, somewhat lazy attitude, and disregards both authority and anyone else who thinks his methods are wrong. Basically, he's a Cop Who Breaks All The Rules™, except he's rich, trendy, and wears cool white sneakers. Despite his status as a law enforcer, his rich tycoon father vaguely disapproves of his free spending, but Michael refuses to change, handing out bills at an alarming rate in the name of justice.
Besides being a poor financial planner, Michael's other major failing is his inability to win the heart of Lisa (TVB starlet Linda Chung), who's apparently the only girl around who won't fall for his "money solves all problems" attitude. Enter Lincoln Lin (Aloys Chen a.k.a. Chen Kun, of The Knot and The Little Chinese Seamstress), who wanders into Hong Kong from the Mainland to investigate the death of his brother (Teddy Lin Chun). Lincoln is also rich, and apparently has some connection to Lisa. He meets Michael while eating at a posh Central-located club for rich bastards, where the loaded-with-dough get together to party and belittle the hired help, one of them played by Son of Ti Lung™ Shaun Tam. Michael and Lincoln butt heads over Lisa because she used to date Michael and now seems to be doting on Lincoln, and Michael demands that she must be his. The two spar and exchange boring banter before Michael decides to help Lincoln on his investigation because he really does want to be a good cop, and not just a rich one who uses his money instead of his wits.
Appearing in seemingly his tenth Hong Kong movie in the past year, Shawn Yue handles his silly character with solid screen charisma, cementing his status as Hong Kong's most versatile and least picky young actor. Yue can handle both action and drama, is unafraid to poke fun at himself, and usually avoids the self-consciousness that contemporaries Nicholas Tse and especially Edison Chen are partial to. As his partner, Aloys Chen spends most of his time looking pretty and slightly bemused - not exactly top qualities of a kick-ass cop action hero. Then again, these guys are too pretty to be your typical cops, and given their homoerotic male-bonding banter seem to be only a shade away from Brokeback status. Teen girls may dig Playboy Cops automatically because it's a cop movie starring two young, thin, and pretty guys who act both tough and sensitive, and look great in expensive suits and luxury cars. If this doesn't qualify as some sort of thinly-disguised Yaoi manga-to-screen adaptation, then I don't know what would. As a bizarre bishonen fantasy, Playboy Cops isn't without its obvious charms - that is, if such a thing is your cup of tea.
Playboy Cops is not is a solid film. Jingle Ma is a competent commercial director and can certainly make things look attractive. However, without a good script or actors, his films suffer. Playboy Cops is oddly paced; the first half of the film meanders aimlessly, and features too many scenes of Shawn Yue and Aloys Chen basically doing nothing. They chase dead-end leads and banter incessantly, all the while revealing their personal issues, none of which are that compelling or original.
Luckily they're both likeable guys, and the fight sequences are charged with effective impact if not overt flair. Action director Stephen Tung gives the few fight sequences energy, preventing them from being over-the-top without reducing them to obvious shots of the actors posing. Add in a bout against a vaguely amusing professional fighter played by Xiong Xin-Xin (Clubfoot from the Once Upon a Time in China movies), plus an appearance by Hong Kong Cinema's official Man Who Plays Cops™ Danny Lee and you have a movie that comes off as a standard, workmanlike action comedy not unusual for late nineties Hong Kong Cinema. That was when urban-set, Hollywood-influenced action films came into vogue (i.e., Tokyo Raiders, 2000 A.D., Downtown Torpedoes), and Playboy Cops seems to belong to the same bland, unspectacular club.
That is, until the film takes a turn that's shocking for a movie with such seemingly amiable trappings. Given everything above, you'd think that Playboy Cops would start fluffy and end fluffy, but for some reason, Jingle Ma decides to go psycho on the audience, delivering violence that's more than a little disturbing considering the circumstances. The head bad guy (whose identity is revealed in an ineptly handled plot twist) starts acting really evil and really, really over-the-top. Women are threatened in alarming fashion, chainsaws are used in ways they should not be, and the climactic fight/standoff involves more blood and bodily damage than one expects to see from anything starring such blazingly pretty people.
In the end, Playboy Cops seems to be aping classic Hong Kong Cinema by upping the stakes and sparing few people from harm - which was a trait that made many eighties action-comedies so damn entertaining. The mixture isn't as effective here, as the film seems too slick and bland to succeed as a gritty and emotional rollercoaster like, say, Tiger on the Beat. Still, despite the overall quality of the film - which isn't that great, mind you - Playboy Cops does deliver something resembling an affecting experience. It may not be comfortable or even tasteful, but it does affect. In an increasingly homogenous movie marketplace, that ability is worth something. (Kozo 2008)