Headlines (2001)

Directed by: Leo Heung
Written by: So Man Sing, Yu Wing Chun & Fan Yau Man
Producers: Nam Yin & David Lam
Starring: Emil Chow, Daniel Wu, Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee, Grace Yip, Wayne Lai, Leroy Leung & Simon Loui

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Whoever Leo Hung is, his infrequent directorial career isn't filled with name efforts. The little reviews out there suggests one movie to be your typical Cat III sex romp while another meant an excursion into Taiwan cinema. It seems fitting that he went out with Headlines (at least for the time being). A drama that didn't make much of an impact anywhere but has since been acknowledged by some fellow reviewers out there. Whoever Leo Heung is, Headlines most likely represents a peak to be proud of.

Coming to work at the Hong Kong Daily, newly examined journalist Peter Wong (Daniel Wu) is reluctantly being taught the ropes by veteran reporter Sorrow (Emil Chow). Quickly learning to adept to ways not featured in his education, his first story about Yuen Chi-Wai (Grace Yip) on her own looking after her brothers leads to the social services tearing the family part. Sorrow himself stumbles upon a jewelry theft that's connected more deeply to a misstep of Officer Mak's (Wayne Lai), a longtime friend of Sorrow's. Joey (Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee) meanwhile poses as a social worker to get the true story about triad punk Ho Wai-Keung's reason for saving a teenage girl from a beating at the hands of other triads, getting emotionally involved in the process...

Journalists can be scum, no news there, and Headlines is expectedly populated with those only striving for that winning headline while others are out to make a difference. I.e, the naive ones. Heung's examination is destined never to be original therefore because most of us know of the good and bad facets of journalism, in particular sensationalistic journalism. Never let it be said that you can't weave a compelling character drama out of it and Headlines small ways means strikes a winning chord, albeit minor.

Almost structured like a buddy cop-comedy initially, the trio we're introduced to in the form of Emil Chow, Maggie Cheung and Daniel Wu's characters over the course of the movie go through disillusion in their line of work, self discovery and as clichéd as it threatens to be, as clichéd as it actually becomes, Heung brings well-honed directorial focus to the worthwhile, valid screenplay by So Man Sing, Yu Wing Chun and Fan Yau Man. By adopting a fairly understated tone throughout, Heung has our engagement on board as the issues of friendship, love and social commitment are brought to life even beyond the movie screen. It's not great depth or any earth-shattering sentiments that is news to anyone but each story strand manage to deliver the basics well. A rare thing then and now. Perhaps the biggest flaw though is Heung's obvious disbelief in his own material as he feels the need to spice up the film with a thematic scene transitions that are purely unnecessary stylistic choices. He's already got the viewers onboard that are willing to go along for the ride without being fancy as writing and acting is only disrupted by turning the film into MTV.

In the end, it also helps that Heung gets a surprising amount out of his cast. I never doubted Emil Chow's abilities after seeing him in serious mood in Purple Storm, being able to switch off his happy go lucky persona easily. His character Sorrow, the veteran, is slightly eccentric but equally the father of wisdom amongst the trio with his struggle being the balance of friendship with Officer Mak and loyalty towards the reading public. Chow is an engrossing presence and while the film gives way for over the top emotions, it sits well and can be felt in Chow's handling of the character. Daniel Wu brings ropey acting and delivery but is ridiculously well cast. Peter is the fresh kid on the block that quickly finds out that no fancy education can prepare you for the meeting with the real world and its issues. It's such a minor journey but the essentials are highlighted by director Heung and therefore well brought out in Wu's performance.

The other Maggie Cheung of the Hong Kong scene is glaringly obvious a young, rough talent but proves that working with dedicated storyteller Leo Heung, she melts into the understated aspects to the relationship between her and soft triad thug Ho Wai-Keung. Grace Yip and Wayne Lai appear in supporting roles, with the former proving fitting and affecting for the little screentime she receives. Lai meanwhile gets a chance to bring forth his fine dramatic chops as officer Mak on the brink of having a scandal of his being revealed.

Headlines doesn't bring breaking news of any kind. You all have a view, a pretty correct one, of journalism as it is today and director Leo Heung's last movie to date examines all the facets in an expected way. However he delivers a trio of character journeys within this framework that remains compelling, with performances to match. Headlines is not a great, big movie but a minor one that proves to be winning. It didn't deserve to be the headline of 2001 but obscurity shouldn't be its fate either.

The DVD:

Chinastar presents the film in a 1.79:1 aspect ratio approximately. Print is mostly devoid of damage and presents a generally pleasing, sharp image.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track offers up activity in all channels but sounds quite rough in its attempts to create atmosphere. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles contains some excursions into ropey grammar but all meanings come through overall. The timing is slightly off for a few scenes but it's not bothersome in the long run.

A few extras turn up, most notably a 5 minute, 6 seconds long making of. The usual format of interviews and movie clips is present but with English translation only for the latter, this short program is of no use. The trailer, Chinese language synopsis and filmographies for Emil Chow, Daniel Wu, Maggie Cheung and Grace Yip represents the remainder of the added "value".

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson