Film: The Detective ****
Release date: 11th April 2011
Running time: 109 mins
Director: Oxide Pang
Starring: Aaron Kwok, Liu Kai-chi, Wong Tak-bun, Lau Siu-ming, Lai Yiu-cheung
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewer: Adam Wing
The Pang Brothers are back. The most infuriating filmmakers in the world today, Danny and Oxide Pang have been taking us on a ride to cinematic Heaven and Hell for the past twelve years. Often inspiring, often insipid, you get the idea. They’ve been making films together since the dawn of time (not bad for a pair of directors still in their forties) and for every work of art (Bangkok Dangerous, The Eye, Recycle) there has been a work of arse (The Messengers, The Eye Infinity, The Storm Warriors). Their solo projects are even more puzzling, ranging from intermittently entertaining to darn right annoying.
Of the two brothers Danny would appear to be the least talented behind the camera, either that or his choice of solo projects have been decidedly dubious. In Love With The Dead, Forest Of Death and Leave Me Alone leave a lot to be desired, and believe me; I really wanted to like these movies. Oxide’s output frustrates because his solo projects, while entertaining, still feel uneven and lack the killer blow of their work together. Both Diary and Abnormal Beauty have a lot going for them, but there’s something missing with both of these movies, resulting in a watchable experience rather than an unmissable one. The Detective arrives on DVD this month courtesy of Terracotta Distribution.
Aaron Kwok stars as Tam, an occasionally dim-witted private detective who doesn’t have what it takes to become a police officer. The Chinese title of the film translates to C+ Detective, which pretty much says it all really. He takes a job from an associate of his, which requires him to track down a girl from a photograph. The associate claims that the girl is trying to kill him, but Tam remains uninterested until he puts a pile of cash on the table. Bodies are uncovered, mysteries are unearthed and Aaron Kwok truly captivates, aided by fine camera work and a note-worthy script that teases in all the right places.
Oxide is armed with an intriguing story, and even though he’s been found guilty of pulling the same rabbit out the same hat before, there’s more to his style than cheap jump cuts and boisterous sound design. Similar tools of suspense are used here but they’re put to better use in a genre not already drowning in the stuff. Oxide's visual style is always compelling, not to mention 'itchy'. There's an unease running through the heart of the picture that keeps you hooked. Then there's Kwok's performance, a term that can’t always be relied upon, but Kwok truly owns The Detective and it’s a good job too, because he’s barely off screen. A fine supporting turn from Liu Kai-Chi aids him; Liu plays old friend and fulltime ‘proper’ police officer Chak.
Let's not forget Oxide’s input though, keeping things moving without ever taking his eye off the prize - he may have learnt a few lessons from the past after all. Oxide’s visual talent should never be denied, but he has been known to drop the ball when it comes to coherence and storytelling. Not that Oxide allows you to contemplate, he returns to his horror routes whenever the pace slows down - utilising a series of familiar jump cuts and loud noises - but with The Detective in never feels at all intrusive, the calm in this case is punctured by car chases, explosions and suicidal butchers. That's not to say The Detective is perfect. There’s a back-story that doesn’t really go anywhere and a few developments are never truly explained, at least not to a satisfactory standard. Pang attempts to tie up the loose ends with a handy final scene, but only really addresses some of the issues of an over-ambiguous script.
The DVD comes with a Making of Featurette, Behind the Scenes at the Gala - World Premiere, UK trailers, insights into Terracotta Distribution and an introduction by Oxide Pang himself. With regards to the movie, Oxide has delivered a highly enjoyable detective thriller, a ride you’ll be more than willing to take. The Pang Brothers are set to infuriate me until the end of days, I know that, but that doesn’t mean I wont be watching. The Detective isn't quite up there with the best of the brothers back catalogue, but it's certainly a reminder of their talent behind the camera. Generally speaking, a step in the right direction for the Pang Brothers is a cut above the rest of world cinema, and with news that a sequel is already in production; there’s never been a better time to catch up with Oxide’s energetic opening.
Offbeat, unconventional and brought to life by a director free to escape his horror-infused comfort zone, it doesn’t take a detective to work out where this review is headed.