Comeuppance (2000)

Directed by: Derek Chiu
Written by: Derek Chiu, Zevia Tong & Benny Li
Producer: Johnnie To
Starring: Jordan Chan, Patrick Tam, Sunny Chan, Wu Hsing-Guo & Joe Lee

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Milkyway Productions is a place where Derek Chiu absolutely fits in. The producer of Comeuppance Johnnie To is the man responsible for some of their memorable work, in particular The Mission and Running Out Of Time. Those were two movies with genuine effort and cleverness behind them and in 2000 Derek Chiu showed what he could do for Milkyway.

Cop Michael (Sunny Chan from The Enemy) and his team is dispatched to a bar where a triad boss King have been murdered, through poisoning. We then get to follow quiet and mild mannered Sung (Patrick Tam) executing the murder by putting cyanide in King's beer. Sung doesn't stop here and continues to take out criminal after criminal, in his own creative way. At the same time journalist Hak (Jordan Chan from Big Bullet) starts to write fictionalized stories based on these murders, stories that then become the inspiration for further acts by Sung...

It's hard to start deconstructing Derek Chiu's highly enjoyable story of comeuppance. I'm only two movies into his filmography and both those have been hard to pinpoint exactly where they belong in the myriad of genres. Comeuppance is for all intents and purposes a lighthearted crime thriller but director Chiu is not one wanting to follow the layed down structures within a specific genre. Together with Zevita Tong and Billy Li he's crafted a tale that demands your attention but is remarkably easy to follow. In it's opening minutes I was really searching for the one thing that would kickstart this movie and as soon as we understand what Patrick Tam's Sung is up to, Derek's film starts to reveal itself (and why it's called Comeuppance).

During the proceedings, Derek builds a pretty unpredictable story structure that is only basically recognizable at it's very deepest core. It revolves around the hunt for a murderer and in between we get memorable scenes after another. It's all presented as a quirky narrative where we get to see odd angles and places (one being a sewer) though the important storypoints are still clearly conveyed. Unlike Love Au Zen, that relied so much on the dialogue, Comeuppance comes off more understandable right away. It's just more odd than regular viewers may be used to, however Milkyway veterans are probably comfortable with the format. When Derek breaks the light mood with a bit of tension (mostly revolving around Sung's plans being jeopardized) he manages to get the audience gasping a bit and second being on the edge of their seat slightly. That he also flip flops between the past and present without warning and makes the audience still get what's going on is a testament to Derek's skill.

Also as part of and outside of the narrative he tries to technically achieve this level of quirkiness, not necessarily for comedy purposes though. Examples of this include scenes where Sung is imagining a jug of beer turning red because of the cyanide. This is a tricky device because we're not entirely sure whether it positively shows his remorse or his pleasure in what he's done. That's less of a throwaway moment but there are others that easily could have taken you out of the movie but it somehow becomes acceptable for the director to selfindulge a little. It is ok because Derek never loses sight of the story that is calmly paced and feature a good deal of clever written words & situations. In Derek's Love Au Zen I spotted a repeating stylistic trait of having events play out in the background and foreground. He repeats himself in Comeuppance as well, this time in the form of several panning shots of walls separating rooms. May not mean anything but it's there to observe anyway.

The trio of actors you can say one thing about. They all fit their roles. To match the movie, some of their acting is rather low-key. Sunny Chan's cop role is on paper clichélike but certainly doesn't feel like it in the writing and performance. Jordan Chan, looking very different after a few simple costume choices, is more the comedy element of the film. It's the distinct look that makes this performance cool to watch, never seen Jordan being so dorky. Patrick Tam (Hong Kong Film Award winner for his role in Beast Cops) gets to challenge himself in his role as our good/bad guy (depending on how you see it). It's his character that will create the potential debate about the movie but regardless of that, he does the writing very much justice. Out of the four movies I've seen with Patrick in them, I had the hardest recognizing him in this one. He looks pretty different than in Beast Cops.

Derek Chiu's Comeuppance is the work of a smart director flanked by smart writers. It's a different but very accessible and lighthearted crime story.

The DVD:

Strong 1.85:1 transfer by Mei Ah. It's a little soft but print damage is kept to a bare minimum.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is mostly active in the front speakers, mainly through music since it otherwise has dialogue basically. That is competently mixed with the music to create a good audio experience. A 2.0 Cantonese option as well as the same choices for the Mandarin dub.

Excellent English subtitles! Not one spelling error and it's a pleasure getting, for once, accurate subtitles on a Hong Kong dvd. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

The Data Bank has the usual cast & crew listing and a plot synopsis. No trailers of any movie is on the disc. Mei Ah has been disturbingly bad at providing a trailer for the main feature in the past also.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson