Cop On A Mission (2001)

Directed by: Marco Mak
Written by: Not A Woman (But Hai Lui Yan)
Producer: Lawrence Wong & Bowie Lau
Starring: Daniel Wu, Eric Tsang, Suki Kwan, David Lee, Anya, Ng Chi Hung, Richard Cheung, Tony Ho & Lam Suet

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Cop Mike (Daniel Wu) is involved in a shoot-out at a restaurant that leaves both triads and innocent civilians dead. The following investigation leads to his indefinite suspension but his superiors decides to send him undercover in the triads instead. He lands a position with boss Yum King Tim (Eric Tsang) after saving his wife Pauline (Suki Kwan) during an attack. As Mike progresses in the organization, he begins to take forbidden steps that will draw him far away from his loyalty towards the force and the triads...

It's interesting to look at Marco Mak's career now that it includes feature film directing. He first started out as full on editor for Tsui Hark and during the latter stages of the 90s began a busy directing schedule that still included editing duties (in the case of Cop On A Mission, co-editing with Angie Lam). Cop On A Mission was his 3rd since debuting in 2000 with Love Correction (starring Nick Cheung and Athena Chu). Mak has by now established himself as a filmmaker that likes to rely on style quite a bit but is at the same time one of the few out there that can seriously make it a narrative drive for any given mood. Most of it simply comes directly from him during editing stages and that's where his big advantage lies seeing as he's responsible as a story teller whether he's editing or directing. I bet his movies would've turnout much differently if he had come from a cinematography background however...

This triad-thriller does feel like a Marco Mak honing his directing craft (which came full bloom with the offbeat and very entertaining A Gambler's Story with Francis Ng). It's very much a thriller in the vein of efforts that everyone sees before Cop On A Mission, such as Hard Boiled and Infernal Affairs on story-levels, bringing in familiar themes from the point of view of the undercover cop, in this case Daniel Wu's Mike. It does set out to be less wild than subsequent effort of his, such as the mentioned A Gambler's Story, settling for a slight noir atmosphere with a Lincoln Lo lounge score and rainstorms within a neon light bright city of Hong Kong. Fair play. You do need to adjust yourself to a particular story and Mak suitably sets up his main theme of scattered relationships but merely sets it up, never does much with it. Which in a way is in intent as much of the proceedings isn't about being a great, big character-drama anyway. It's a mood setter, one of doom as the opening shots clearly reveal. It's therefore by no means not professionally handled on a character-level but the trials and tribulations of most involved will be familiar to even casual fans of this fare.

It's by setting this content up within a frame of decent visual style that Cop On A Mission breathes a little longer than other efforts in the genre. This is no Infernal Affairs in scope or budget but Mak manages in the end to stand out on a few points. The script, credited to Not A Woman (lame alias that apparently belongs to a But Hai Lui Yan) offers some offbeat situations early on, such as the initial meeting between Mike and Tim in a arcade game hall and Ma Yuk Sing choreographs sporadic bursts of good old fashioned bloody gunplay. These different aspects makes Mak's work end on a level that's above other hacks in the business while not distinguishing enough to play with the big boys. But that's ok.

The film looks attractive courtesy of Tony Miu's assured cinematography (as also evident in his work in movies such as Red To Kill and Brother Of Darkness) but mainly, it boasts good performances that shows that Mak knows when to concentrate on that and not camera trickery. Leading the pack is of course veteran Eric Tsang who's as solid as one can be, striking a great balancing act between the character of Yum King Tim's need to be brutal, reasonable and caring. Aside from the funky eyebrows on Tsang, it's a great performance despite the fact that we're still looking at goofy, chubby Eric. One would think that you couldn't take him seriously in a role like this but it's so pleasing to be wrong over and over.

Daniel Wu logs one of his better performances since Purple Storm but still seems to be stuck in development slightly. Wu gets good points for some subtle acting where a decent amount of screen presence and charisma results in good communication with the audience. As his character enters darkness, the performance leads more towards overdone and generic, although serviceable. Suki Kwan has a fairly challenging and subtle role within a simple character sketch which is all about true loyalty but she does very well, in particular her interplay with Eric Tsang is memorable. Lam Suet appears sporadically throughout in a terrific comic performance.

Cop On A Mission certainly never screams originality but within the stylish workings of director/co-editor Marco Mak, it can fairly proudly stand on a middle ground quality wise for the triad-thriller genre. And that's ok.

The DVD:

Deltamac presents the film in a 1.75:1 aspect ratio approximately. Print has light wear as well as some staining at times but colours are fairly attractive as well as sharpness.

Only a Dolby Digital 1.0 presentation is provided for the Cantonese track which is a strange decision as the movie at least must've had a stereo soundtrack. Dialogue and effects come off as clear aside from a moment or two where dialogue sounds muffled. A Mandarin 1.0 dub is also included.

The English subtitles has a few minor errors but on the whole provides a sensible translation it seems. Traditional and simplified subtitles are also included.

Only extra is the trailer, which should be easy to find despite the menus being all in Chinese.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson