Clean My Name, Mr Coroner! (2000)

Written & directed by: James Yuen
Producer: Joe Ma
Starring: Francis Ng, Ti Lung, Nick Cheung & Stephanie Che

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Undercover cop Fred (Nick Cheung from The Conman 1999) gets the go ahead by, his superior Inspector Lau (Ti Lung from Drunken Master II), to go through with a 20 million dollar deal with a gang. The deal turns violent and in the ensuing shoot-out Fred's partner Herman escapes with the money. Fred flees the scene and tries to catch up with him but he's stopped at a roadblock. The police finds a headless corpse in his trunk which is identified as Herman. Fred now has to go on the run to figure out who's behind this set up of him. He goes to the morgue to inspect the body himself and drags the unwilling coroner Ko (Francis Ng) into his, now, problemfilled life...

James Yuen's thriller-comedy is very recognizable. The plot has been used and seen before in world cinema, the execution of the movie doesn't raise any bars and the twists in the story are easily figured out even by the most casual viewer. Doesn't sound good at all, right? In my opinion, you CAN make a typical genre movie that holds no surprises and still receive good grades in the end by critics and fans. It's not hard to notice that in many movies there's no real effort behind the scenes but it feels different in Clean My Name, Mr Coroner! It's evident that James is aware of the limits of how high he can aim with this production and I must say that he seems to have achieved what he set out to do.

As the writer of this been there, done that-plot , James doesn't make things difficult for himself in the directing department. The pace is set pretty much right and things move smoothly from scene to scene with plot exposition inserted without stopping the movie completely. Since I didn't know much about the content and how the movie was going to turn out, I thought the beginning seemed a little disjointed. The main plot kicks in fast though and is dealt with in a clear manner. There is even a short shoot-out for us action junkies that felt way too shaky camera wise but exciting enough still.

When Fred and Ko eventually start to dominate the movie, the familiar buddy movie aspect enters. Nick Cheung and Francis Ng's banter won't rival pairs like Nick Nolte-Eddie Murphy or Mel Gibson-Danny Glover but their contrast in character make for some amusing scenes. It's especially fun when Ko has to let Fred, a real slacker compared to the tidy Ko, take refuge in his home. You can almost feel Ko panicking inside when he's very planned out way of living is disrupted by the less tidy cop. Again, the situations and themes regarding these characters has been done before but I won't complain when it's well done. There's a few thriller moments inserted and James Yuen moves professionally between that and the comedy. He creates a good tension with dramatic lighting and tilted camera angles in combination with a simple but effective score. I would've been more happy if he had choosen to straighten up the camera for certain dialogue scenes though. It draws far too much attention to itself when we're watching dialogue in a 45 degree tilt. There's also some uses of steady cam in the street chase for example but the way it's done here just annoys me. I don't feel that blurry motion is the right choice in this case and I'm betting the chase could've been better if we had gotten a good look at what was happening. Director Wong Kar-Wai makes it work in some of his movies but it's there for a purpose which certain directors doesn't seem to get.

To make Clean My Name, Mr Coroner! and it's main core, the comedy, to work you have to have actors that can generate the chemistry needed. Nick Cheung provides a solid turn and displayed the anger needed for his character. When he went in his comedy mode, he handles it calmly which works with what's written. There's a few scenes where shouting is employed to create comedy and it's just not something I find funny. The character lacks some things in the writing but as an actor Nick Cheung does his job well on this movie. Whether there's room for improvement remains to be seen.

One of my favourite actors from the Shaw Brother's era, Ti Lung, is still going strong. During the 80s he proved once and for all that he had crossed over from martial arts actor to character actor through such films as A Better Tomorrow and People's Hero. There's not a lot of surprises to his character Lau in this movie but Ti Lung never gets dull to look at, no matter what movie he's in. Stephanie Che is nice eye-candy for the production but her inclusion as the romantic interest for one of the characters does feel out of place. We could've lost that character and still had a movie but I guess there have to something there for us guys. Wilson Yip fan's should also keep an eye out for the charismatic Joe Lee.

Not surprisingly the biggest shining star of Clean My Name, Mr Coroner! is Francis Ng. He's been on a roll now for a few years, making only a few bad movies along the way, and has also directed two movies (9413 and What Is A Good Teacher?). Here he adds another layer to his already present versatility in his portrayal of the slightly odd coroner Ko. He's born into a rich family and has a very scheduled way of living his life. When Fred comes along that all breaks down though but he's smart enough to eventually adjust since he's also in danger. His odd nature could've been something that had been shaped through his profession but it's just who he is. Smart, methodic and good at what he does are traits that the character have but that also applies to Francis Ng's acting skills.

In the end James Yuen's Clean My Name, Mr Coroner! is a good thriller-comedy. It doesn't aim high in terms of originality but instead hits the level of quality it's after. Whether or not you're a Francis Ng fan, this movie will provide you with solid entertainment.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the movie in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For this fairly recent movie there's more print damage than usual. There's not much specks but for a number of scenes there's a vertical line on the print that is quite noticeable. Contrast seem a bit too high but it's still a watchable print from Mei Ah.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track doesn't offer much range but the 5.1 counterpart seemed mixed way too loud so I went with a lesser sound experience. It still does it's job and it's more dialogue than action here. There's also 2.0 and 5.1 Mandarin dubs on the disc.

The English subtitles were for the most part serviceable but did feature some pretty crazy sentences from time to time. The plot and dialogue could still be followed despite the errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also provided.

The always unexciting Mei Ah data bank has cast & crew listings, a plot synopsis and on the trailer side we get to sample this movie and In The Mood Fore Love.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson