Firstly, for those of you that care, the Top Ten of 2012 is coming, but Santa delivered a couple of DVDs that need perusal first, as at least one of the movies is destined for the list, and I just need time to get around to watching them. In the meantime, it has been far too long since I have watched a Hong Kong Police Thriller, and this one comes with much Ballyhoo, a great cast, and a little twist in the execution.
“Cold War” opens big with an explosion in Mongkok diverting the local Police Attention from a kidnapping of a Police vehicle containing 5 Officers. The Police Commissioner (Michael Wong) is away in Denmark, so it is left up to the two Deputies to run the investigation codenamed ‘Cold War’. On one side we have Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok), the rising star of the force, albeit more of a desk jockey. On the other we have M. B. Lee (Big Tony Leung), an older head, from a family of Policemen, who has earned his promotions out in the field. However, as M. B.’s son Joe (Eddie Peng) is one of the kidnapped Officers, he takes control of operations, which leads Lau to question his opposite number’s objectivity and effectiveness. This leads to incredible tension when the two face off, each with their own internal allies. Lau eventually wins this mini coup d’état, but then finds his own actions under investigation by Aarif Rahman’s Internal Affairs Officer. Amongst all these political shenanigans can the Hong Kong Police both rescue their own people, and find the mastermind behind the events?
So what we have here is the kind of Police Action Thriller that we have all seen many times before, but with a little twist in the execution. Instead of concentrating on the events on the ground (although they are not totally ignored), we concentrate on what is happening in the upper echelons. On one level this is interesting stuff, although often it does leave one hungry for more of the brief action segments. It does seem to also have the effect of providing a lot of tension between Lau and Lee, but the actual victims of the crime itself are rather forgotten about.
My biggest issue is with our two leads. Aaron Kwok is a perfectly reasonable actor, but for my money he is better when asked to perform in more quirky roles. His straight-laced Sean Lau is just a little vanilla for my liking. And when he is coming up against a brilliant and charismatic (albeit actually totally in the wrong) Tony Leung, there is a big mismatch in the quality of the acting. Then, about halfway through the film, Leung is removed from the active cast, and Kwok struggles to hold the film together – partly because his character is so, well dull, but also because you never really get the sense that he is properly in any peril whatsoever. Rahman comes aboard at this point as a fresh faced IA investigator, and does well, but he doesn’t bring much else than act as a cog in the machinery of the story.
There is plenty to like in the supporting cast, who all perform admirably, with Charlie Yeung standing out as the Officer in charge of PR (although the hints at her past with Sean Lau are criminally under utilised). Andy Lau drops in as the Politician who is in charge of the Force, and gives a rather fun cameo, but I could have done with seeing him share some time with Leung. Attempting to not overly spoil things, but the film is also hurt by the lack of screen time Eddie Peng gets, sharing merely moments with his on-screen Father, despite their relationship being completely key to what is going on here.
I may well have to blame the average subtitles for not fully understanding what is going on, but the actual machinations of the underlying plot left me a little confused. Whilst I understood the endgame, I have no idea what a ship full of illegal immigrants really had to do with anything (yes, I understand about the attempt to misplace the blame, but it was hardly going to fool even the worst investigator). Also, the attempt of the film-makers to cast some suspicion on Lau was just too undercooked – one document hovering near a shredder really is not enough for us to turn against the guy who appears to be our hero.
It really is another case of a film thinking it is a bit better than it really is. It is well filmed, and the story is interesting. The problem is that it really is a film of three disparate acts, which reduce in quality. The opening exchanges and the political stuff at the beginning are excellent, and the middle section involving Lau’s investigation is interesting, but the denouement is lacking. The villain is revealed, being both a surprise and no surprise at all. It is pretty well telegraphed that one of our cast is involved, but whilst we later hear his motivations, it is all exposition, and I didn’t feel we had earned this knowledge over the course of the movie. And then we are set up for some kind of inevitable sequel, which drags out the film’s conclusion and rather than leaves you wanting more, ends up leaving the viewer a little unsatisfied, and maybe a little cheated.
It really is a perfectly reasonable movie. But it really isn’t “Infernal Affairs”. Which is what I am pretty sure the film-makers were hoping for.