Been a long while since I watched a Tsui Hark movie. Pretty fun, with a cool title character played by the great Andy Lau, an enemy of the state given freedom by Empress Carina Lau (Mimi in 2046) to investigate why officials are spontaneously combusting into super fake-looking fire sfx. He teams up with court-appointed Jing’er (Bingbing Li of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a badass with her CGI whip) and albino Pei (Chao Deng) and the cave-dwelling, millipede-eating Donkey Wang to investigate, eventually discovers someone has a convoluted plan to crush the Empress during her coronation by toppling a massive statue. That someone is one-armed master builder Shatuo, an old ally of Dee who I would’ve known was the villain if I’d recognized him as Tony Leung Ka Fai (aka Tony 2 of Ashes of Time).
Politics: “A confession under torture is useless. Don’t you know that it’s torture which alienates people from the Empress and makes them turn against her?” I liked that Dee carried his pet birds with him on assignment, but it turns out that was only so the movie could have more things to set on fire. Speaking of the fake fire, there’s also an amazingly fake fight against CG deer.
Won a bunch of Hong Kong Film Awards but couldn’t beat Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere at the Venice Film Festival. IMDB’s summary calls it an “incredible true story,” haha.
The same writer/director/producer/cinematographer team made Mad Detective, but this is not on the same level. Two big stars (Sammi Cheng of Infernal Affairs and My Left Eye Sees Ghosts, and Andy Lau) cruising on charisma in a mystery plot ending in romance and full of idiotic humor – not even J-To’s expert filmmaking chops can save this one.
An Exiled reference?
Lau is a freelance blind detective, but inspector Szeto Fatbo (not knowing the language, I can’t tell if that name is supposed be a joke) keeps stealing his cases (simply by following Lau out of earshot), depriving him of reward money.
Sammi has a missing friend named Minnie whom Lau promises to help find. Lau solves crimes by re-enacting them at the scene, which seems like the usual TV cop schtik but is actually kind of wonderful here. Fortunately, all criminals in this movie are fat and stupid and always use the same technique, so he catches up to most of them.
The love of Lau’s life married Fatbo after Lau went blind, but this is unimportant. Really, whatever happened to Minnie is unimportant too – after some false leads (one involves a cannibal), Sammi is injured and some people die and Sammi and Lau end up together, yay.
Maggie Cheung has health problems, comes to stay with her older cousin Andy Lau, a loanshark enforcer who acts completely recklessly along with his fuckup buddy Jacky Cheung. This movie and Days of Being Wild could definitely have swapped titles.
Ronald Wong (sort of an HK Bud Cort) manages to get out of the gangster life, marries, is given a bunch of money. Jacky fails hard in every direction though, tries to quit and run a food stand but ends up where he came from: getting the shit beaten out of him until he’s rescued by Andy. These two have their moments of brilliance, but by refusing to play the gangster game by the rules, soon everyone is tired of their shit. Crazy Tony (Alex Man) is set up as the “bad guy” who wants our heroes dead, but that’s all our heroes deserve, and soon what they get. Meanwhile, a bit of a love story has developed between Maggie and Andy, set to a Chinese version of “Take My Breath Away” and a 1980’s synth score. But just when Andy thought he was out, the bastards pulled him back in, then shot him in the head.
Jackie on right:
Ang Wong only has two scenes, but makes an impression: