Playboy Cops (2008)
Directed by: Jingle Ma
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The day when I take on a Jingle Ma directed movie in the long format of reviewing, something surely is up. Always willing to give filmmakers the benefit of the doubt but not when they're called Jingle Ma (Silverhawk, Tokyo Raiders and Happy Birthday, to name examples, simply doesn't appeal to me), one elite reviewing site out there had words about Playboy Cops that made it rise grade-wise above prior Ma-turds. So ace cinematographer turned director gets what is the only planned chance at So Good... to make an impression. To tease you all a little, Ma takes a stance with Playboy Cops and it's welcome.
But the über-coolness of the opening and several stretches of the film doesn't equal compelling. In fact, as Michael (Hong Kong hardest working young actor Shawn Yue), the world's best cop, with the best suit, tie, glasses, cool haircut enter a hostage situation via helicopter, we pray to god that we're watching some form of parody of über-coolness. Unfortunately, this is Ma's structure which turns out to be a blessing and a curse as we have actually forgotten about this early stylish stuff by the end. Meeting up, teaming up and hating Mainland cop Lincoln (Chen Kun - A West Lake Moment), he's after the murderer of his brother but is also dating Michael's ex-girlfriend Lisa (Linda Chung)...
The running theme of how wealth affects you and others will come to some form of fruition as I'll discuss later and we get of course the sense that we have a cop from the upper class as a lead character. Upper class means being distanced emotionally, including from your parents so Michael has a little life lesson to learn along the way in this investigation. Also in need of learning a little bit about women and how to conduct yourself as a man, Ma doesn't force issues down our throat but is clearly not one to squeeze fresh stuff out of the material either. Almost embarrassing but not quite. The calm, gathered sight of Lincoln vs. loud and stubborn Michael has the buddy cop formula written all over it and at best while ticking off aspects in the formula, Ma gets basic chemistry between our leads. Because in reality, ticking off a checklist makes for a tedious and uninvolving time. Cool for the sake of being cool and just punching in... why is Playboy Cops even welcome then? For this viewer anyway, it appears the film after a while as it introduces some grave darkness, violence and drama is molded out of a multi-moodswinging 80s/90s Hong Kong cinema. Because some of the best effective detours into bloodshed back then certainly didn't intrigue as cop genre-pieces but filmmakers knew how to push the dark buttons and Jingle tests out an old skill here. So surprisingly, he gets results.
After initially flooring us (because it's unexpected quality coming from this filmmaker) with some affecting, simple moments of characters bonding by just sitting and talking in a frame (especially the scene with Shawn Yue and his dad, played by Danny Lee), Ma doesn't necessarily show us an assured hand but does communicate the simple intent of such a scene that works with prior setup of Michael's distance. Now, drop the piano score in the background and next time there is even more learnt in the school of quiet drama. But it's the total turnaround in mood for the film's final reel that cements this likeability as a busy piece that shouldn't have worked then and certainly not when pulling out a xerox of it in 2008.
Jingle Ma keeps his eye for visually arresting, glowing images way back and focuses on a grainy, brutal time involving chainsaws and finger chopping that actually becomes basically affecting because of quiet moments created prior. While basically affecting doesn't get you more than an effect that lingers during the running time, you also look at Playboy Cops as having followed through on its themes. I commend a movie of the new millennium that dares to be flawed in favour of being very Hong Kong of a past era. So you did make an impression Jingle. Now learn from this and look a little at your past work with Clara Law and Eddie Fong too (1*). Life is a long filmschool for filmmakers so in 10-12 movies, perhaps Ma has gained some knowledge again. That's when I'll be back to examine his work again I reckon.
The DVD (Mei Ah):
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese (Chen Kun speaks most of his dialogue in his native Mandarin though) 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English (a fair amount of spelling- and grammar errors but overall the translation has no problem coming through), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: The trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) Ma was the cinematographer on most of their work including The Reincarnation Of Golden Lotus, Farewell, China and The Private Eye Blues.