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  Mad Detective Crazy CopBuy this film here.
Year: 2007
Director: Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai
Stars: Lau Ching Wan, Andy On, Lam Ka Tung, Kelly Lin, Lee Kwok Lun, Karen Lee, Flora Chan, Cheung Siu Fai, Lam Suet, Jay Lau, Eddy Ko, Yuen Ling To, Jonathan Lee, Ronald Yan, Wong Wah Wo
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Weirdo
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Five years ago Detective Bun (Lau Ching Wan) of the Hong Kong Police Department was the most respected of his generation, but he was also treated warily thanks to his deeply unorthodox methods. As long as he got results his eccentricities were tolerated, for he truly got to the heart of the cases by acting them out, but the pressure was too much for him. When his superior officer retired, he was given gifts by his staff, but Bun's present was too much for anyone to take: his right ear, which he cut off in front of everyone. The result? Bun lost his job...

But if he was done with the police force, the police force was not done with Bun, as the rest of this strange thriller from co-directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai played out. The idea of a detective so committed to seeing his cases through that he was able to not only get into the minds of the perpetrators, but also suffered his own near-breakdown as a result was not unknown at this point, but usually went as far as having its protagonist feel improved by getting it out of his system to a certain extent. Here, however, those personality quirks in the sleuth have led him to a state of genuine schizophrenia.

So he truly lived up to the title, as Bun was wont to see and hear people who were not there, and if there was one thing he knew, that justice had to be done and he could perceive how it should occur, then in other ways he was hopelessly confused. When we catch up with him as another detective, Ho (Andy On), tries to coax him back to solve a particularly tricky case, he is living alone except that he thinks he is living with his wife, not willing to face up to the fact his actual spouse has left him a while ago and the woman he is living with is a figment of his imagination. Ho notices this early on, and the ethics of bringing this man back to his old job raise their troubling head.

That crime Bun is asked to help with concerns a police detective who disappeared some time ago while pursuing a thief through a forest accompanied by his partner, Chi Wai (Lam Ka Tung). The thief got away and the partner thinks he killed the cop and stole his gun which has subsequently been used in robberies and murders, making it all the more imperative they should be solved: the criminal has killed before and there's the strong likelihood he'll do so again. Bun, however, has the power (or curse) to see people's personalities as they are, meaning the potentially confusing sight of alternative actors playing the same role as we watch through his eyes.

If you can get a handle on this, it's fairly engrossing, but while the thriller parts are as well handled as you'd expect from To, what lets the film down is not the outright bizarre qualities but the drama, which takes itself as sombrely as it's possible to do with a premise that could equally operate as a wacky comedy. The consequence of that is that you're intrigued to see how this resolves itself, but put off by the leaden weight of the atmosphere and the crushing responsibility which weighs on the characters' shoulders; with the plot pulling in both these directions the tension in the middle gets too much for it to bear. Therefore the more audacious facets of what could have been a ho-hum police procedural generate enough interest to keep it afloat, and the cast help in that fashion as well, yet otherwise it's not much fun. Not that mental illness is much fun, but at least you could have felt more satisfaction by the close rather than a solemn nod that it had worked out. Music by Xavier Jamaux.

Aka: San taam
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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