Mad Detective (2007)
Produced & directed by: Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai
Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2008:
Cop Bun (Lau Ching-Wan) used some very well-honed, intense instincts to solve crime but eventually loses his mind to the point where those instincts are less stable than what they were. For a very difficult case involving a stolen police gun, Inspector Ho Ka On (Andy On) asks Bun to consult and it brings them both to a serious brink. One being madness, especially so since Bun claims to be able to see people's inner personalities. The other being danger...
Reunion time in 2007 at Milkyway! Johnnie To no longer does things solo while spicing up Hong Kong cinema with players that actually grow in talent under his eye. It's true though the latter as Mad Detective offers up a mixture of the old and new but in particular old. You've got shared directing duties with Wai Ka-Fai for the first time since 2003's Running On Karma, one of the few harder edged (but done in Milkyway's own way) vehicles with the To/Wai credit. At other times they and their returning leading man Lau Ching-Wan have indeed mixed it up for the sake of profit but ultimately Milkyway Image's history speaks greatly (GREATLY!) of the darker, harder, off-beat and funny. Are they adding on top of the pile of pre-millennium and post-millennium classics (the company passed its 10 year anniversary in 2006. How time flies)? You betcha!
It feels like eons ago Johnnie To and Milkyway severed the ties to commercial necessity and nowadays whatever is on their minds, ends up on the screen in often the most vivid of cinematic ways. Firmly drenching Mad Detective in the noir style made famous by their in-house cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung but basically creating a suspense vehicle (of sorts, it's rule breakers at work here you know...), the term method to madness applies to reality and fiction here. Because the team aren't doing rehashes of TV-series such as Profiler or Millennium but what are they doing you always, always, ALWAYS should ask! Based on the premise and the character of Bun alone, you've got every conceivable angle for Johnnie To and co. to work from and it's indeed thanks the wondrous nature of Milkyway cinema that we're treated to the unexpected much of the time.
Not AS quirky or deadpan in the humour department this time around (a scene at a public toilet does sends jolts to our laugh-center and more...), perhaps the addition of Wai Ka-Fai again speaks of success achieved with Running On Karma because there's obviously similarities premise-wise. And that vehicle indeed offered up something fresh but also typically wild Hong Kong cinema. The forces collide here but balances out matters a bit and the biggest venture outside a dark, gory frame is some warmth and tragedy... at the same time. With Lau Ching-Wan's PITCH PERFECT portrayal of a humane madman, here's a man who looks like he's been swallowed by obsession but doesn't want to erase his only instincts and drive in life either. Hence staying off medication but also being a risky character with little to no downtime to REALLY ponder the in's and out's of his instincts, he seems to be able to drag down people easily with him. In this case Andy On's Ho, someone with only a limited set of inner personalities. There's a chance of growth here and closure.
It's quite lovely the way To/Wai elicits various oooh's and wah's from their audience. Either via the shocking opening that easily earned the flick its Category III rating or the various hints at what all those extra people (mainly actors from the Milkyway stable) are all of a sudden doing in the frame. But it's not a special statement made because they don't know what they're doing. No, they CAN and have an enormous amount of focus to deliver an involving time that may approach complex but is easily accessible to the max as well. It's a tricky thing to balance the moods but in reality the writing also makes sure they're naturally close to each other, be it the happier, funnier and supremely violent moments. The inner personalities angle could even be dropped too if looking at the simple template but it matters, and is felt nonetheless. Whose inner stuff matters more? The extensive, busy one or the one lacking even ONE? The suitable answer is delivered and even with a wooden Andy On walking behind the tremendous surprises Lau Ching-Wan offers up, it's a serviceable performance backed by skills and belief so a fairly integral, suitable part is reserved for On. And he owns it a little.
Much is about rebirth in Johnnie To's and Wai Ka-Fai's superb potboiler and considering the focus on display, perhaps they shouldn't go about their individual business alone for such extended period of time anymore. They work extremely well together, especially now with creative freedom set in stone firmly. Two fine, outer personalities but I'm willing to bet Johnnie To has Wai Ka-Fai in him and vice versa.
Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 2.38:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The stylized surroundings in the film gets a fine showcase on dvd.
Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles are very coherent, with only one spotted, minor error. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras are limited to an unsubbed Making Of (22 minutes, 39 seconds, with focus on lengthier cast & crew interviews), the trailer and the classically bad Mei Ah Databank (with "data" such as basic synopsis and VERY basic cast & crew listing).
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson