The Masked Prosecutor (1999)
by: Herman Yau
To call Herman Yau the hit and miss director is not entirely unfair. He's one of those directors that you're not willing to explore fully due to his filmography being filled with more substandard efforts than notable ones. Those notable ones mainly come in the form of Cat III favourites The Untold Story & Ebola Syndrome, Taxi Hunter and perhaps the finest film of Herman Yau's, the poignant From The Queen To The Chief Executive. For those movies alone he deserves attention but finding the quality ones in his quite extensive list of directed films can be difficult. How does the 1999 production The Masked Prosecutor fare then?
Someone is kidnapping and torturing criminals that have been able to escape the claws of justice. That one is what the Hong Kong police refers to as The Masked Prosecutor. He is Tai (Louis Koo), a cop that went to jail for manslaughter and now has an agenda of his own that he's taking out on the underworld. Assigned to the case is veteran but clownish cop Guy (Blackie Ko) and his new superior, the younger and by the books officer Wah (Jordan Chan). As the search goes on, Wah begins seeing connections to The Masked Prosecutor and Guy...
To answer the question above. Fairly good actually. Herman Yau's tale of a vigilante cop, different moral codes and loyalty certainly ranks as a standard thriller but Yau manages to involve the audience more than expected through the central questions in the narrative. The Masked Prosecutor doesn't feel fresh but I've never encountered a Herman Yau, until From The Queen To The Chief Executive came along, that wanted to turn genre conventions in and out. The social commentary on hand is familiar and movies like Death Wish have explored the subject before. His opening montage that describes the unfair justice system seems to borderline on comic as criminal after criminal manages to avoid convictions but I think it's more of a compressed version of a longer period of reality. Finally, it has reached the boiling point for someone, in this case our masked prosecutor.
Through the writings of Nam Yin and Lam Kee To, the intended quality of the film reveals itself rather early. It seems that the filmmakers weren't intending to top Se7en or anything other great genre piece that but the beginning parts of the film are spotty. It's due to a lighthearted mood, even approaching lame comedy that the movie doesn't benefit from at all. Also the role for Grace Yip, as the daughter of Guy turns out to be useless in the whole scheme of things. Yau and screenwriters could've explored it further by making her an emotional part of Guy's fragile and shadowy life but she is reduced to being the love interest for Jordan Chan's Wah (an added subplot also of little use) plus she turns up now and again just to turn up now and again. The positives in the writing comes through characters. They all have an distinct moral code they follow almost blindly and it creates an unexpected affecting dynamic between Guy and Wah. Here's where audiences minds will also participate to a good degree and I applaud Yau for actually managing to get to us.
The playful and fairly good chemistry between Jordan Chan and Blackie Ko does drive the film better towards its twists and Louis Koo's larger participation as the film goes on is definitely where The Masked Prosecutor finds its track to decent-ville. Yau does drench the movie in a fair amount of over excessive style such as tilted angles and quick cutting in violent scenes but when calm, in combination with Joe Chan's atmospheric cinematography, he does come off as competent. Arguably Herman has done better work as a cinematographer though.
The characters as written, especially Guy and Tai have complexity in them and it's helped along by the actors. Blackie Ko does not impress in comedic mode but the late veteran stuntman goes on to convey his struggles of loyalties pretty well. Age has set in and the inner turmoil soon will reveal a downtrodden nature to Guy. I did like Jordan Chan's performance better though. It's certainly a stock character and no huge depth is given to him. However, he embodies Wah with that strict moral code in a calm, reserved way that seems suiting for his talents. Louis Koo also brings the needed intensity and humanity as the masked prosecutor. This role requires a lot more silence and, again, we're only talking a decent thriller here so his acting is good for the material.
The Masked Prosecutor doesn't impress greatly but more importantly, it's a decent thriller or rather a decent thriller by Herman Yau. It's therefore mostly for those more curious about his work than those seeking quality Hong Kong thrillers. It can be easily dismissed but possesses a certain aura to it that unexpectedly involves, at least for the moment.
Universe transfer is framed at approximately 1.80:1. It is soft and fairly muted but remains clean throughout and the darker scenes in particular are handled well.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track comes with a big flaw though. It's very centered and has a distinct echo to it, akin to most of Mainland label WA's soundtrack presentations. It is bearable but a flaw that I did not expect from Universe. Same echo is on the Mandarin 5.1 dub.
The English subtitles are serviceable but manages to put together some very odd sentence structure and words from time to time. Additional subtitles are Bahasa (Malaysia), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
The making of, lasting 12 minutes and 55 seconds comes with optional subtitles but only traditional and simplified Chinese sadly. The majority of the show has your usual interviews and movie clips. The latter half does offer a nice glimpse into the creation of the car chase towards the end (supervised by Bruce Law). Worth a watch definitely.
The Star's Files for Louis Koo and Jordan Chan are devoid of much solid info and they even get the director credit for Bullets Over Summer wrong (Wilson Yip, not Johnnie To). Trailers for The Masked Prosectutor, A Man Called Hero and Century Of The Dragon are also included on the disc.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson