Dir. Johnny To, Wai Ka Fai. Hong Kong 2007. 89 min.
The prolific Johnny To and his occasional collaborator Wai Ka Fai here put a new twist on the standard police yarn. No longer simply good cop versus bad cop, they add a third angle, the mad cop, who uses neither logic nor guns to solve his cases, but instead relies on pure psychotic inspiration. The angle requires the investigators to put themselves in the shoes of the killer or the victim in order to discover the truth. Most likely to work well for the solidly carved Johnny To niche and in festivals.
Bun (Lau Chin Wan) is a cop with a brilliant record for unerringly pointing out the culprits in the most baffling cases. His genius borders on madness, and he is sacked from the force after he cuts off one of his ears to offer it as a present to his superior.
After five years of frustrating inactivity, he is approached by a younger police inspector named Ho (Andy On), and asked to help on a case that's still open after 18 months. The case involves two cops who chased a suspect into the forest. One of the cops came back, but the other disappeared. Shortly afterwards a series of robberies were committed all over town, using the gun of the missing cop.
The main suspect is Chi Wai (Lam Ka Tung), the cop who came back, despite the fact that there is no hard evidence to implicate him. As soon as Bun sets eyes on Chi Wai, he immediately realises that there are seven personalities in him. In an ambitious scene set in a restaurant, To chooses to portray all seven of them on the screen at the same time. One of them is a woman, and among the others is a cowardly glutton and a sadist strongman. Bun is the only one who can see them.
After a while, Bun's chaotic methods frustrate Ho, and bring out a hidden personality in him: that of a frightened little boy who does not dare measure up to reality.
The main point of interest here, however, is not the pretty banal case, but the manner in which To and Wai handle the various personalities. They blend real characters with imaginary ones without giving any indication of how to tell them apart.
The film doesn't allow much time for digestion, the nervous editing breathlessly pumping adrenalin into the proceedings while the steely blue chiaroscuro images force the eye to constantly seek its subjects.
Lau Ching Wan, as the tormented Bun, manages to look perfectly sane one moment and completely lost the next. Andy On is spot on as the likeable young man who discovers the weakness buried deep down in his soul. All technical credits are superlative, with particular praise due for the sound department.
Milkway Inage (HK)
Celluloid Dreams (Fr)
Wai Ka Fai
Wai Ka Fai
Au Kin Yee
Cheng Siu Keung
Lau Ching Wan
Lam Ka Tung