The Peeping (2002)

Directed by: Marco Mak
Written by: Not a Woman (But Hai Lui Yan)
Producer: Lawrence Wong
Starring: Daniel Wu, Teresa Mak, Jenny Yam, Grace Lam, Patrick Keung & Samuel Leung

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Private eye Calvin (Daniel Wu) is hired by Miss Wong (Grace Lam - Our Last Day, Crime Of A Beast) to tape the sexual activities of Taiwan politician Kwai Fung-Ming (Teresa Mak). Taking along his team consisting of girlfriend Cindy (Jenny Yam) and best friend Sam (Samuel Leung), Calvin is soon drawn to Kwai, neglecting all around him. Subsequently he's also drawn into a complex game, beyond the simple task originally given to him...

Proving once more that headlines can green light movie projects even way past the 90s streak of "golden" Category III cinema, Marco Mak (A Gambler's Story, The Blood Rules) directs this story based on a political scandal in Taiwan (1*). Working with the higher rating, the often slick visualist Mak has an opportunity here to inject the basic ingredients of sleaze, sex and thrills. Final tally: fairly pleasing but all too teasing sleaze and sex. No thrills either.

Not that aspirations to provide a full psychological portrayal of voyeurism, politics and naughty upper class behaviour are on display but the script penned by the alias Not A Woman (2*) thinks it can get away with barely touching upon potentially interesting depth. For one, every glimpse into the mind of Daniel Wu's Calvin, be it his nervous trembling or need to take sleeping pills to rest at ease is so painfully obviously setup for a payoff in the third act and here Mak can't exactly inject substance at the points where we're supposed to gasp or go "aaaah..." either. Touching again upon some interesting turns the film does seem to want to take, the unexplained attraction of Calvin's to Kwai, the annoyance of journalists in a turbulent political world of Taiwan, herein lies detours that neither Not A Woman or director Mak utilizes.

The Peeping as a thriller is therefore extremely pedestrian and with director Mak letting his over the top/welcome visual trickery take a backseat in favour of so called storytelling instead, this whole production sets itself up for a whole lot of trouble. Truth be told, it probably could've needed a Wong Jing excess-boast of poor jokes, violence and wild sex but still, when an aspiration exists to draw yourself away from bonk-a-thon status, then there's slight things to admire about The Peeping. The sex never goes the full frontal nudity route and at times still feel titillating but as these are part of obvious attempts to weave a surprising story, a feeling of failure enters as it's evident these become running time padding interludes instead. Then the story can go on in its flat ways and viewer frustration over the LACK OF nudity sets in! Mak isn't making any friends with his choices here.

It's no surprise then that the filmmakers manages to inject zero life in the performers such as Daniel Wu and Jenny Yam. Way too low of a project even for the arguably talented American born Chinese, Wu's participation in The Peeping reeks of a desperation to work up a filmography but it would've been so easy to have a plant doing Wu's acting. It's that lifeless. I do like the casting of Teresa Mak's looks as she's no ordinary screen beauty but behind that exterior lies wild erotic auras and mystery, at least for a little while. Her character especially crumbles thanks to strange, unwarranted dialogue about penis function and a breast comparison contest in a ladies bathroom is laughable instead of being character building. Frequent triad character actor Samuel Leung comes of surprisingly well though as the righteous best friend of Calvin's.

But even minor points of interest crumble when Mak unleashes his final conclusions that are scripted and acted out with a great, big sledgehammer, working neither as well injected exposition or as thrilling twists. A quick cash in on a real life scandal in this case that's the first cinematic crime ever committed, especially by Hong Kong filmmakers. Knowing a director like Billy Tang, he could've easily made this package light up along with his cinematographer Tony Miu, in order for it to at least reach decent level. Marco Mak usually does reach that but even if he's never been part of a league, he IS out of his league here and definitely has made almost 100% better films.

The DVD:

Tai Seng presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.84:1 approximately. Little damage rears its head but the film's hazy look produces a dark and fairly muddled transfer.

The Cantonese/Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 track uses the jazz/stock porn score to a decent effect in the front speakers but there's otherwise low activity in the track. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

The optional English subtitles are free of obvious grammar- and structure errors.

Extras includes a Tai Seng promo for Cop On A Mission and an alternate opening sequence (6 minutes). Featuring imbedded Chinese/English subtitles and Cantonese 2.0 audio, extended opening sequence is the more appropriate description as this segment adds about 3 minutes of footage with the couple Daniel Wu's character first is hired to spy on. It starts the movie shaky but reveals Category III-esque sleazy intentions. Comes with the price of the actual slightly atmospheric opening now feeling less so.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Meaning it's just the story outline used here and by tweaking a name or two, the filmmakers even add the end credits disclaimer that all events are fictional! Producers know their stuff. For the record, the real life incident involved politician Chu Mei-Feng's sexual encounter with a married man being taped and sold on bootleg vcd's around town.

(2) This alias has credits on other Marco Mak films, specifically writer of Cop On A Mission and a directing credit on Haunted Office. The latter three story project was also helmed by Mak and Bowie Lau.