The Detective (2007)
Directed by: Oxide Pang
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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2008:
Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2007:
Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2007:
Private Investigator Tam (Aaron Kwok) has his office in Thailand but not enough work to create cash flow. Hence being in debt to the likes of cop friend Fung Chak (Liu Kai-Chi) and accepting a job from seemingly delirious Fei Lung (Shing Fui-On). Enlisting Tam to find the girl Sum so that Fei Lung can get her of his back, Tam stumbles upon a murder mystery involving money as well as stumbling upon body after body...
After their critically slammed but fairly well-received, in terms of box office, Hollywood adventure The Messengers, the Pang Brothers was the first crew to get award winner Aaron Kwok back onto screens after terrific acclaim in Patrick Tam's After This Our Exile. Choosing Oxide thankfully (right NOW, I prefer this brother) to direct the Pang Brothers next adventure with Hong Kong and Thai flavour, The Detective almost departs totally from the horror genre they're often associated with to provide an ever growing puzzle of a murder mystery. Coupled with a personal story for our lead character, emotional complexities have been Oxide Pang's forte in the likes of Ab-Normal Beauty. But as even and well produced as The Detective is, it's missing the key ingredient of emotional involvement.
So what detective clichés can Oxide and co-writer Pang Pak-Sing fit into their story here? A few, non-intrusive ones like Tam being out of cash, clashing with the law enforcers and being the wrong guy at the wrong place at the wrong time more often than not. Yet it's not attempts at being cool and doing film noir Hong Kong/Thai style. Thankfully staying away from creating a quirky character but instead focusing on the reasons why he's one to never quit, there's the underlying back story of Tam searching for his parents to propel emotions forward, up to the surface etc. Utilizing sound and startling imagery for tension, Oxide certainly creates a slick, and thick (in terms of heat) frame that benefits from a thoroughly Thai infused setting. Here car chases can and should involve elephants to some degree and realizing audiences wants to be in on the puzzle (believe me, that doesn't seem like the agenda of some filmmakers), Oxide stays away from any obvious over the top stylistic excursions. Reserved only for select moments, he does come off as a filmmaker with many tricks in the book and one is to know when to be reserved.
All well and good but the main premise basically dealing with stocks and money rarely, sometimes never involve. It's a multi character mystery that is done with pretty much the utmost clarity but going back to tension provided, clearly Oxide has little belief in the celluloid created so most of the "excitement" unfortunately is created on the soundtrack. Basically, it doesn't fool us into involvement but instead detaches us even more from it.
Although twists late reveal train of thoughts that could've elevated the status of The Detective akin to how the very final images of Ab-Normal Beauty did, the tool is admirably employed but not interesting enough when placed in the context of what has happened prior as the final pieces of the puzzle are laid to rest. No harm done by the comfortable and solid Aaron Kwok who owns the screen suitably well or the ever so good Liu Kai-Chi who can project goofy and hard within the same character and beat. And again, the film is even (although way too long) a quality you should not ignore but you haven't done a full day's work even in Hong Kong cinema when you refuse to dip. Those uneven efforts reached heights too. Now that Oxide Pang has revealed that his formula isn't waterproof, maybe Danny deserves a chance?
The DVD (Universe):
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
*Making Of (9 minutes, 42 seconds). Standard program with some good notes on shooting the car chases for the film. Subtitled in English.
*Gala Premiere (6 minutes, 50 seconds) is the usual nonsense cast & crew take part in prior to screening.
*Stars' Files (for Pang Brothers, Aaron Kwok and Liu Kai-Chi) are filmographies only. Photo Gallery (20 images) provides a decent mix of movie- and production stills while trailers for The Detective and In Love With The Dead are also included.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson