The Suspect (1998)

Directed by: Ringo Lam
Written by: Ringo Lam & Lau Wing-Kin
Producers: Cui Song Ming
Starring: Louis Koo, Julian Cheung, Ray Lui, Ada Choi, Eric Moo, Phillip Ko & Simon Yam

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Having served a 12 year prison sentence for murder, Don Lee (Louis Koo - Bullets over Summer, Election) is released and taken to a luxurious hotel where his buddy Max (Julian Cheung - The Island Tales, The Replacement Suspect) has given him two welcome back presents. First a hooker and then a rocket launcher under the bed. Instructed to carry out an assassination on political party leader Jose Valesco, Don refuses but Max carries out the mission from a nearby room. Don becomes the hunted man however and need to track down his Big Brother Chan Hung (Simon Yam) to try and clear his name. As Chan Hung has changed identity and now plays a large part in local politics, Don's only friends in this mess becomes a foreign legion group led by King Tso (Ray Lui - To Be Number One)...

Sandwiched in between Full Alert, Ringo Lam's glorious return to Hong Kong cinema, and his genre-bending Victim, The Suspect appeared in 1998, mixing politics and action through the well-trained eye of his. There's a little grit in that eye though as this is the lesser movie of Lam's otherwise terrific late 90s output. Using Louis Koo's Don as a pawn in a political game, Lam chooses (or was forced) to set the story in an undisclosed Asian country possibly due to the heavy connection to corrupt politics. Seemingly basic and even naive statements appear about the behind the scenes players during an intense election and when the first act of violence is executed, you understand even more why neither country wanted to be labeled in the movie as prone to violence and subsequently anti-Chinese.

Lam has no intention despite to be overly fresh with his ideas, initially threatening to go voice over on us for the entire film but thankfully characters and actions are somewhat allowed to speak for themselves. Don, the "I thought I was out but they pull me back in"-character does muster up one line that manages to flow well as a theme through the film, confessing to reporter Annie (Ada Choi's underused character) that he never knew the face of his target until after his sentence. He's not the only pawn and long time buddy Max is even deeper into his killing ways, probably never either allowed to achieve a sense of human feelings by knowing targets even by such a little thing as their face.

Lam flashes his meticulous way of creating tension and mind-blowing mayhem, so the large scale for The Suspect is quite well-realized (even if CGI tends to the ruin two of the big bangs of the film). Working in his favour, there also seems to be little need for anything more complicated with Louis Koo at center, showcasing a blandness that blends well with the character. Knowing it's an ensemble piece of sorts in addition to all this, it's with some encouragement you continue to delve deeper into The Suspect.

Despite having Simon Yam and Ray Lui be more active (they're supporting characters in actuality), Lam does seem to stop the film's quick pace a bit dead in its tracks as the story goes on autopilot. Don goes from place to place, through the motions trying to clear his name, finally getting the requisite confrontation with his sworn brother Max where they're separated by thick prison walls. The thematic begins to tread water here as now Lam really has to rely on uneven performers Louis Koo and Julian Cheung to embody internal crisis and conflicting emotions of characters that are going opposite directions. Instincts in the directing aren't necessarily wrong as the setting for this confrontation scene is quite symbolic but casting creates a hindrance for The Suspect to truly grow effective, something Full Alert and afterwards never Victim had a problem with.

Still, it's in many ways a blast from the past as this action-thriller in its the final reel, while slightly rough technically, goes deliciously ballistic one us. Beat by beat, showing the evident bottled up creativity Ringo wasn't allowed to flash in Hollywood and a love for how big Hong Kong action cinema could or should be on the senses. In a way out of character for Lam if you consider his best works are about shocking bursts of realistic violence, the flirt here is still rather contagious. Questionably meaningful in the long run, someone meant for the audience to take away feelings of being subjected to a mature, current backstory of seedy politics as we know it combined with the answer as to what made Hollywood import the premium Hong Kong directors in the first the place. Only partly successful in its over the top ways therefore, The Suspect perhaps deserved to be a little forgotten in comparison to the quality showed post-Hollywood by Ringo Lam. But just a little forgotten though.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.76:1, approximately. Light wear appears, colours are a little pale and black levels not particularly finely tuned, leading to only a fairly watchable transfer. It's indicative of the standard standard Mei Ah largely came through with before going 16:9 on us.

Mixed in Dolby, the Cantonese 5.1 option (with a good chunk of English used) seems rather compressed into the center channel while the 2.0 selection spreads more naturally into the front speakers predominantly. Same options exists for the Mandarin dub.

The English subtitles both go by very fast on occasion and suffer from a rather hefty amount of grammar- and spelling errors. You will quickly figure out the actual intent of the words so the translation overall remains comprehensible. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available.

Only extras are trailers for The Suspect, Wild Search and Full Alert while the Databank contains the usual nothing (cast & crew listing, plot synopsis).

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson