The Log (1996)

Directed by: Derek Chiu
Written by: Lu Bing & John Chan
Producer: Tommy Wong
Starring: Kent Cheng, Michael Wong, Jerry Lamb, Cher Yeung, Wayne Lai, Stephen Fung & Fredric Mao

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Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1997:
Best Actor (Kent Cheng)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1997:
Best Director (Derek Chiu)
Best Supporting Actor (Jerry Lamb)
Best Original Film Score (Tats Lau)

In a moment of heated passion, cop Dixon (Michael Wong) accidentally kills a hostage and is kept incarcerated with a manslaughter charge looming, on New Year's Eve 1996. Taking over the reigns temporarily falls upon veteran but lower ranked Gump (Kent Cheng). A considerate guy towards his colleagues and one having neglected his family life, it all is about to culminate during this last day of the year. Meanwhile, a irresponsible rookie cop (Jerry Lamb) gets his wake-up call after an accidental manslaughter on his behalf...

A major landmark for Derek Chiu, earning a Best Director nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards for his stab at more hard-assed darkness than in prior three movies up to this point. A terrific directorial and creative talent that should've earned more since (1*), with The Log Chiu practices the usage of his sledgehammer but also his skill at defying expectations. The result is all too loud and clear but at times highly effective.

I'm being vague here initially but Lu Bing and John Chan's premise certainly isn't. The future writers for Chiu's Final Justice (1997), events unfold on New Year's Eve where all hell breaks loose for three cops of different status. You see, there was this worry about what the future would hold once that year took its first breath but in case you didn't know, Chiu populates his frame with most conceivable symbolic gestures representing this theme. With imagery of the Union Jack, Queen Elizabeth, doves etc etc, The Log logs a pessimism that really should be considered a textbook example of when symbolism goes astray. Strangely enough, only a year later in Final Justice, Chiu would make actual effective use of his sledgehammer while then failing when taking his sound and visuals down to earth. With The Log, that's when his greatest strengths are apparent.

Drawing the parallels between Michael Wong's Dixon and Kent Cheng's Gump, in the former camp you find the hot-head, fast forward thinker and in the other corner, the lowly, not very aspiring cop that just want to handle his duty gracefully. Both married to their jobs essentially, Gump reveals the biggest scars in that regard as he can't anymore find a way to be even the slightest bit of a good, supporting husband. With his head spinning, we find a character that can't turn inside out and vice versa anymore, choosing oddly concrete but poor, harsh solutions to his problems.

Why Chiu scores is in the way he learns himself that you don't need to draw attention to anything but character and acting so usually he plants his camera firmly when his better drawn characters are at center, allowing Gump in particular take on a humane status in the face of hardships. Kent Cheng, who recently expressed the need for better screenplays in order for him to accept more movie roles, gets meat to work with here, achieving both audience sympathy and creating an aura of fear as he's about to snap. Very much a large act (not a knock on the heavyset Cheng), still director Chiu keeps proceedings subdued enough to let Gump be a living, breathing slice of life on screen.

One big round of applause must go out to the filmmakers for finally realizing that if you can't learn to make Michael Wong speak Chinese all the time, you integrate his switch back and forth again into the environment. A stationed foreigner in Hong Kong, as per many in different trades and professions at this time, he even needs to have his orders translated and even though Wong delivers dialogue in a ropey way, it's a rare occasion when a filmmaker tries to steer Wong the correct way into a Hong Kong movie. Wong is always dependent on what's given to him and thankfully the script allows the character to receive a new perspective of how his harshness as a cop affects, in particular when he interacts with a religious prisoner. This makes Dixon integrated but then again it's clear why Michael did NOT receive a nomination for his work. Jerry Lamb as the new beat cop living a double life is also a bit of a revelation as you've come to know Lamb as providing little other than one personality to his performances. Here Lam as the third scarred cop as portrayed gets to the highs and lows quickly, with a fairly subdued touch as directed by Derek Chiu. Cher Yeung (Dream Lovers) also adds fine support as Gump's disillusioned wife.

With a switch back and forth between conventional cop thriller tactics and character based drama, some insecurity on Derek Chiu's behalf can be detected but the overall impression of The Log leans towards favourable. There are no bad guys, only humans acting irrationally here, reaping the consequences of their actions. The extended climax speaks much of this, perhaps being a little on the conventional side, but Chiu before this has established enough to warrant his actions. With some experimental and overly aggressive audio/visual means, they would come more in handy when Chiu turned the odd and quirky but the filmmaker displays good, directorial intentions here, despite the obvious thematic intent being that 1997 sucks and sucked.

The DVD:

Please note that Panorama's back cover specs mentions both 16:9, Dolby Digital 5.1 and optional English subtitles but that is not the case in any way. The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1, approximately. No extensive wear appears but the transfer remains fairly soft and muddled with poor sharpness. The film deserves a few notches better despite this of course being perfectly watchable.

Carrying the Dolby Digital logo on the print, no 5.1 rendition is included, only a Cantonese/English Dolby Digital 2.0 track. It's utilizes the channels well though but dialogue has a muffled nature to it. A Mandarin 2.0 option is also included.

The English/Chinese imbedded subtitles contains a lot of grammar- and spelling errors but comes through despite. They are perfectly readable at all times. The Chinese language menu system contains no extras besides what is either character- or actor bios for Michael Wong, Kent Cheng, Jerry Lamb and Cher Yeung.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) His quirky and off-beat work in the likes of Comeuppance deserved much more recognition, something it still ain't getting today. One of them sleeper hits you've got to discover, folks.