Saturday, 29 September 2007

The Detective (C+ 偵探) ~ a review

You know how you think you’ve got over an obsession and are pretty much back to normal, to all intents and purposes – and then you have cause to dip into the source of that obsession just for a moment, and realise that you never can really be without it?

Aaron Kwok (A.K.A. 郭富城, Mr. K, Ah Wong, 阿王, Sing-Sing, 城-城, and my personal favourite: 郭舞神) is like that. He’s like that cigarette packet you really should not pick up again. Or that power button on a PlayStation (whatever model you choose). Or that wee sip of pure orange juice from a pint bottle as left by the milkman.

Whatever the analogy, he’s an obsession just biding its time before it takes over all over again.

Take for example his new film, ‘The Detective’ (A.K.A. ‘C+ 偵探’, or literally translated ‘C+ Private Detective’). Now when I caught wind this would be coming out for Mid-Autumn Festival, I asked myself two questions, and two questions only: (1) How fast can I get my hands on tickets? and (2) Why have I not got premier night tickets anyway? Seeing as how I had them for two of his three most recent films after all. I laughed me arse off, not four rows of seats away, from the entire cast and senior crew of ‘Heat Team’ and again at ‘Throwdown’ (although I laughed considerably less than the local audience at the latter – it just wasn’t supposed to be funny, which makes me wonder again about the maturity of HK audiences at times). I sat through the Director’s Cut of ‘After This, Our Exile and would willingly sit through it again at least three times in the near future, but it just didn’t strike me till this evening just how much some people resemble their younger selves when pushed.

Don’t get me wrong – Aaron has always had one of them faces you’d not say no to. For anything. But during ‘After This, Our Exile’ he was using it for far less scrupulous purposes than in, say, ‘The Story of Kennedy Town’ (1990). Gone was the resemblance to that wee adorable lost puppy from ‘The Bare-Footed Kid’ (1993), or even the petulant self-serving git from ‘Anna Magdalena’ (1998). It was hard to even see how he’d just been the hapless yet somehow strangely likeable Inspector Syun from ‘Divergence’ (2005). Without a doubt, ‘After This, Our Exile’ had the effect of turning him into one of them actors that, suddenly, could turn his hand to any genre and make it work. Winning two Taiwanese Golden Horses fer Best Actor in as many years only made it less of a joke in Hong Kong press and more of a wary acceptance that he wasn’t some floppy-haired music idol any more. Or was he?

(And, in a very 'kids, it'll grow back!' Dragnet kinda way, he has already grown his hair back. And aren't we glad...)

Skip over his award-winning music concert series of 2004/2005 for a moment, and he’s gone on to concentrate on films as could consolidate his new position of resigned respect in the HK film community. And ‘The Detective’ shows a side to him that, although people might have joked about in the past, now realise could not be accurate at all. His character in the film is definitely not the sharpest tool in the drawer, blaming his failure to qualify for the local police academy on his short-sightedness. We’re led to believe that, while he’s not exactly slow on the uptake, he doesn't have the kind of finely-honed intellect of Sherlock Holmes when it comes to actual detecting. However, what he does have in abundance (apart from smooth muscles. ‘Scuse me, had to be said) is an insatiable appetite for just wanting to know why, rather than leaving a case cos he’s been paid and it’s kind of sorted. Kinda.

Which brings us to one of the clever points of this film – monikers. Everyone has them, especially among friends. And Mahjong partners, certainly. Aaron’s character is never referred to by anything other than ‘Tam’ – as in short for ‘private eye’. There’s a trend here, and far be it for me to let slip any spoilers, but what’s in a name anyway?

The supporting cast is brilliant – especially the Mahjong Four and of course his purr wee put-upon policeman friend, Liu Kai-Ji (廖啟智) doing his best to keep Tam’s PI nose out of his case files. The backdrop of Thailand only makes it seem more oppressive and resistant to his attempts to unravel the mystery of the woman stalking his client. As an avid guesser of outcomes, I was thrown off the scent quite a few times, ‘Ocean’s 11’ style, until the very satisfying pay-off at the end. Now who’s not good enough to be a real policeman?

So getting back to what you remember about old obsessions: sometimes you rediscover them and find it’s going to be a blatant case of not-stalgia – when you revisit old childhood cartoons and realise that they were not as good as you remembered them to be. Other times you remember exactly why they were obsessions in the first place. This is a clear case of the latter: those little faces he pulls as if he’s not aware of it, being nimble on his feet when you least expect it, the way he still runs as though his shoes cannot grip a surface, the amazing torturous shenanigans he constantly puts his eyebrows through, and the unmistakeable sound of his voice, whether demanding or sincere, reminding you of times you’ve rushed out to buy the latest album before rushing home again and lying on your bed, hands behind your head, listening to it at full blast. Twice. Ahhh, those were the days…

Fab cast, witty dialogue, twists and turns, red herrings, blatant clues, sharp editing, wonderful, wonderful performances, and typical genre-bending stuff from the brothers Pang.

Sorry, Ang Lee and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, but Oxide Pang’s ‘The Detective’ has just knocked you off the top of my 2007 fave films list.

And that’s all the review that’s fit to print. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a copy of ‘The Bare-Footed Kid’ to root out and whack on the ol’ DVD player.

Or praps that guilty pleasure, the original 'Endless Love' album from 1989...

Judgin by that wee studio shot on the right circa 1990, I think it might have to be the album after all...

Peach and lube, people!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



It could just be me of course but, am I far adrift if I say I have just the teeniest of an inkling that you quite like this guy?...A bit?

Soupdragon said...

Just a little - how can you tell?


Cracking film though - me friend went to see it last night and loved it, and she doesn't even like Aaron...


levian said...

dropping by while in search of the movie details. hehe. i like your review !! :)

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