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Undercover
Chinese: 危險人物
Shawn Yue
Year: 2007
Director: Billy Chung Siu-Hung
Producer: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung
Writer: Lo Yiu-Fai
Cast:

Shawn Yue, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Monie Tung Man-Lei, Eddie Peng Wai-On,Ben Ng Ngai-Cheung, Ken Tong Chun-Yip, Osman Hung Chi-Kit, Otto Wong Chi-On, Marco Lok Lik-Wai, Michael Lam Wai-Leung

The Skinny: This HD Video-shot crime thriller has decent themes, but suffers due to a weak protagonist and routine handling. Plus, its status as a shot-on-video film is all-too-noticeable. Decidedly inferior to the similarly-themed On the Edge.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Movies about undercover cops are like afros and ripped jeans: they never go out of style. Case in point: Undercover, the latest in a series of similarly-themed films dating back to the beginning of time. Here's the skinny: there's an undercover cop and stuff happens to him because he's undercover. A lot of the time he's depressed or upset, and frequently he's called a betrayer because he is/was an undercover. Someone always dies in the film, and usually, it's because of the undercover cop being undercover. There's also a girl in the film, and usually she also has something to do with the undercover cop being undercover. All the above occurs because when you're an undercover cop, being undercover is everything. You can't escape the undercover life even after you stop being an undercover because to everyone else, you'll always be "that undercover cop" or "that betraying bastard who betrayed us when he was undercover". You all know the drill. Now go write your own screenplay.

Directed by Billy Chung, Undercover takes all the above themes and throws few new tricks out there, except for possibly the film's protagonist, who's so passive and morose that he should probably not be the star of his own film. Shawn Yue is Feng, a former undercover cop who would definitely come in last place in a "cover your tracks" contest. Not only does he allow his former undercover life to drag his current post-undercover life to crap, but he seems only vaguely interested in self-preservation. One night while he's hanging with former triad pal Fai (Sam Lee), the two get caught snorting coke by a cop (Otto Wong of EO2), resulting in the cop's death at Fai's hands. Fai immediately must go on the run, and looks to his buddy Feng for some assistance. However, their wires get crossed, and Fai starts to think that Feng is out to bust him.

Feng isn't really trying to bust Fai, but the cops are wise to Fai anyway, and it's only a matter of time before they get to him. To save Fai (and probably also himself) from incarceration, Feng must go where he shouldn't: back to Tuen Mun, where everyone hates him for ratting out their former triad boss (Ken Tong). The journey is fraught with the expected difficulties, namely triad guys wanting a piece of him, plus a run-in with his former girlfriend Sandy (the ubiquitous Monie Tung), who has angst-a-plenty over the disappearance of her former beau. Meanwhile, there's a parallel investigation into a just-discovered skeleton, the sight of which unnerves Feng so much that he pukes and passes out. What gives? Is Feng really that much of a pansy about dead bodies? Can he rekindle things with his sweetheart Sandy? And can he clear his name with Fai? Does the audience really care?

Maybe, though any sympathy the audience has for Feng may only exist because it's Shawn Yue in the leading role. Yue once played modern Hong Kong Cinema's most iconic undercover cop (Chan Wing-Yan of Infernal Affairs), so immediate sympathy for him is easy. However, the movie works quickly to destroy that sympathy, doing its best to make Feng seem like a card-carrying lout who's more stupid than self-destructive. Feng is supposed to possess the full catalog of problems experienced by Nick Cheung in On the Edge, i.e. his current cop comrades distrust him, his former triad pals hate his guts, and he has a bit of an identity crisis. Of those three, Undercover only succeeds at channeling one: that his former triad pals hate his guts. He bitches at one point about the cops distrusting him, but based on the behavior of his earnest partner (Eddie Peng of EO2), plus other officers (Including Osman Hung of EO2; see the pattern here?), they're cool with him being around. Given the lack of consistent discrimination, Feng's bitching seems a bit empty.

Furthermore, Feng's identity crisis seems nonexistent, as he's never truly conflicted by the two sides of his job. Basically, he does his current cop job in a remarkably poor manner, while seeming more interested in his previous undercover life. Presumably, this is because he really is a bad seed, having been turned by his time on the other side. If that were so, wouldn't he try a bit harder at self-preservation? The film's parallel storylines eventually converge in a completely predictable manner, leading to Feng looking like a moron for not getting out of harm's way. Feng should be more of a sweaty, paranoid cop like Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in The Longest Nite - basically a bad guy who knows he's done bad things, and is not looking for redemption of any sort. Feng isn't looking for redemption either, but his existence seems to be one of self-pity more than anything else. As such, he's probably the least compelling post-undercover cop around. If there's a fault here, it's that the filmmakers couldn't make Feng more of a worthwhile character.

Undercover does create some interest thanks to its themes. While it's largely been done before, the film's minor exploration of the undercover life does manage some feeling. Billy Chung keeps things moving with routine efficiency, employing lots of tried-and-true style (filters, screen flashes, etc.) to make it seem like we're watching something edgy and cool. The film's status as an HD video project is a bit obvious, however; some scenes possess poor contrast, and the too-sharp video image gives the film a distinct made-for-TV feel. Cementing things is a laughable fade-to-static dissolve during a crucial plot reveal, which makes the film seem ultra cheap. Granted, the film really was ultra cheap, as it was produced as a part of producer Andrew Lau's Fortune Star DV project, which is targeting cable and video instead of theatrical distribution. Given that background, Undercover is better than plenty of earlier DV-shot Hong Kong features, and at least seems to be attempting a cinematic story. However, Undercover only seems ill-conceived when compared to the superior On the Edge, as it cannot muster the depth or complexity to make it more than just another entry in the undercover cop genre. Given the umpteen films covering the same subject matter, you could probably do better than Undercover. (Kozo 2007)

 

Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various extras
 

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