The Infernal Affairs trilogy - and Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning remake, The Departed - turned Andrew Lau and Alan Mak into the golden boys of Hong Kong cinema. The directing duo followed up with the enjoyably lightweight teen racer yarn Initial D, which enjoyed acclaim especially in Asia and among street car aficionados. Their latest feature, the eagerly-awaited Confession Of Pain, represents Lau and Mak's return to the darker, cat-and-mouse crime territory of Infernal Affairs.
The tight plotting and in-your-face confidence of Affairs loom like a reproach over Confession which, taken on its own merits, makes for a reasonably enjoyable detective feature. But Confession suffers in comparison to Lau and Mak's earlier work. Before Infernal Affairs, Confession would have been hailed as a better-than-average Hong Kong gun-opera, along the lines of earlier Lau policiers like Bullets Of Love (2001): post-trilogy, it feels like a lesser work, with a disjointed screenplay and uneven attempt to give the thin story an existential depth it doesn't possess.
In the wake of the Scorsese coup, everyone is talking about Confession's remake potential: Warner Bros has now acquired rights as a possible vehicle for The Departed star Leonardo DiCaprio, while William Monahan, who won the best adapted screenplay Oscar for The Departed, is attached to write. Certainly an award-winning and seasoned team of scriptwriters could take the intriguing story nugget here and give it more of a coherent structure and character development.
In Hong Kong and China, Confession was released just before Christmas in a market dominated by Curse Of The Golden Flower, and did well to take around $12m. Elsewhere, returns are likely to diminish the further it gets from its core Asian market, though it will undoubtedly get a courtesy run in many of the territories that screened Affairs. DVD sales among Hong Kong aficionados will be healthy.
Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro - together for the first time since Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express (for which Lau was cinematographer) - play, respectively, detective inspector Hei and his junior colleague Bong. The latter is introduced as a clean-cut teetotaller, but he goes to pieces, leaves the police and takes to the bottle, when his girlfriend commits suicide.
Hei, meanwhile, appears to enjoy a loving relationship with his young bride Susan (mainland actress and director Xu Jinglei), though the sedatives that he sprinkles onto her food alert us early on that not everything is as it seems.
When Susan's father is brutally murdered, she asks Bong (now a private eye) to look into the case, which was closed by her own husband's police department with suspicious haste.
It doesn't all go exactly as expected from this point on, but the games the film should be playing with the audience are undermined by premature revelations and an excess of wordy exposition of motives and backstory. It becomes particularly frustrating in its third act, with an over-neat resolution.
The stone-faced Leung gives the standout performance, despite his character lacking enough emotional coherence. Kaneshiro has presence in spadefuls, but is too much of a poster- boy to play this washed-up loser, and at times his performance feels stagey.
The film is saved by its snappy editing and general visual panache, at its most inventive in the crime reconstruction scenes, which use colour coding (black-and-white for past, colour for present) to place Bong inside the scene as a mute witness.
The melancholy mood may be imposed by the directors rather than evoked by the script, but it's stylishly carried-through, thanks in part to the creative soundtrack, which veers from breathy jazz to mandolin ballads to techno bassbeats.
Media Asia Films
Media Asia Entertainment Group
Cheung Hong Tat
Lai Lu Fai
Man Lim Chung
Chan Kwong Wing
Jing Lei Xu