Shark Busters (2002)

Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Hoh Chi-Hang
Producers: Danny Lee & Lawrence Wong
Starring: Danny Lee, Brian Ireland, Hui Siu-Hung, Ken Lo, Lai Suk Yin, Yeung Tin King, Fung Hak-On, Jamie Luk, May Law & Lam Suet

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Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2002:
Film Of Merit

A cop unit at Wong Tai Sin station, headed by Snr Supt. T. C. Lee (Danny Lee) and containing characters such as lawyer/patrol cop Brian (Brian Ireland), struggling family man Benz (Hui Siu-Hung), gambler Jean Paul (old school martial arts profile Fung Hak-On), all facing the pressure from loan sharks around town. It finally gets to the point where they're tired of being bullied and take a major stand against the practices of the sharks...

There's that combo of moans and cheers whenever Danny Lee appears as a cop in films. Having done so multiple times, starting distinctly in Law With Two Phases (1*). Dividing his time subsequently between actual cop performances and phoned in cop performances, there's been few glowing vehicles for Lee in the latter half of the 90s and onwards. The turn in Herman Yau's The Untold Story III proved to be worthwhile, as was the film, and in 2002, Yau's Shark Busters premiered to little fanfare. Scripted by long time art director for Yau, Hoh Chi-Hang (2*), anger is at heart of the script but the package is largely spiced up with Yau's eye for social satire, to modest but successful effect.

Points aren't exactly hidden and a cop movie structure focusing solely on the financial troubles of several of those subjects could've still allowed for a gun-crazed, gorefest but director Yau isn't interested in turning the script into something commercially bankable. In fact, no actual bloodshed takes place in the film and although intent are serious at core, a light tone dominates that still allows the theme to come to life. Being the post 1997 era, Yau paints a picture of grave economic despair so everyone, including the low spender, chooses to turn to one of many loan sharks in town. Disastrous thinking and results due to interest rate usually spiking quickly. There's a fever around town as pretty much everyone has realized what a profitable business it is to take advantage of current social problems. The triad world of course quickly gets on board... the nutty, crazed, outrageously behaved and dressed triad world that is.

Herman Yau works both a little comedy, a little overdone satire and a little drama into the mix, settling merely for minor but if anything it's a good idea as these different aspects succeed in their own little way. Concerns are valid, have been at the forefront of cinema for a long time (but that's a good thing when illuminated by a good mind) and thoroughly easy to relate to regardless where you're from but commercial it ain't. Easily interpreted due to the un-A-list cast and production values but smarter vehicles are created that way. Yau hasn't been afraid of wanting to be a little clever even though he's rarely gone up high on the ladder of the world's most social conscious and intelligent filmmakers. The fact that someone has aspirations such as this in Hong Kong cinema is encouraging however.

Not that there's any truly distinct performances in Shark Busters but Yau has put together a fun little group of bit players and unknowns to lead the film. Lee Sir himself (I.e. Danny) settles on being more of a supervising presence but he's always wanted to be an image of a thematic and that kind of works here as well. One part of me wishes he'd been allowed or allowed himself to shine a little bit more. His company did produce Shark Busters after all. Hui Siu-Hung, a regular in Johnnie To's films, takes on the most realistic and heartfelt role as a man feeling his luck and life has really gone down the drain. Brian Ireland has a fun repertoire with supporting actor Jamie Luk (3*) and as written is a fun character to have around as he switches between his cop and lawyer personas. To be saddled with a poor Usama Bin Ladin joke isn't perhaps flattering however. Personally I think it's fun also to see Fung Hak-On back on screen in a notable vehicle. Missed by many and subsequently missed by many in Kung Fu Hustle, Fung has also put in an appearance in Herman Yau's to date latest film Cocktail. Finally, another Johnnie To regular, Lam Suet pumps up his blood pressure tenfold as the overblown triad stock character but not much harm gets done since it's the dependable and funny Lam at the helm.

Herman Yau scores and cheers modestly with Shark Busters, an unusual cop comedy/drama combo that settles for voicing concerns about current social issues rather than painting the screen with tension and blood. It's Yau's reality surely partly up there and dressing it in both funny and dramatic ways is a fine stepping stone towards the minor success he has with the chosen theme. Hong Kong cinema will easily be able to give us low-budget vehicles of note if directors like Yau is allowed to vent because there is a fair amount of valid thoughts in that noggin.

The DVD:

City Connection presents the film an aspect ratio of 1.74.1 approximately. Print displays very minor wear and is a fairly good showcase for colours and sharpness.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track (with some slight usage of English) stays central for the duration of the film but sounds clear otherwise. A great deal of censor bleeps in the soundtrack during most of Lam Suet's scenes becomes an annoyance though. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

Optional English subtitles alongside the other choices that are traditional and simplified Chinese are available. The English translation has its fair share of errors but all meanings come through. The trailer is the only extra.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Lee also directed the film and bagged the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor.

(2) Collaboration with Herman started on Don't Fool Me and has since been continued in films such as Cop Image, Ebola Syndrome and Master Q 2001. Hoh has also directed the straight to video releases The Untold Story - The Lost World and The Untold Story - Sudden Vanished. Despite the titles being connected to Herman Yau's infamous Category III movie, there's little to none actual connection. Producers sure know their stuff...

(3) Also a director, Jamie's crowning achievement still remains the superbly funny and underrated The Case of The Cold Fish.