Action / Adventure, China, Comedy, Films, Reviews

Detective Chinatown 2

The boys are back to solve a New York mystery…

Did you ever see that Ridley Scott-produced TV series, Numb3rs? David Krumholtz played a mathematical genius who helped his brother in the FBI solve cases with maths. No, really. Everything could be solved with maths. Terrorism, murder, grand larceny, it’s all solvable. Now, if you’re into that, fine. Me, I couldn’t take the show seriously precisely because it took itself too seriously. So if Numbers (I’m not doing the digit instead of a letter crap again!) had taken itself a little bit more lightly, it might be something like Chen Sicheng’s Detective Chinatown 2. Then again, Numbers would have to have cross-dressing, really tired jokes about gay bikers and more CG flying around to be close to Detective Chinatown 2.

Qin Feng (Liu Haoran) is a gifted detective in the classic mould (not a police officer but an Agatha Christie sleuth) and he’s ranked number 2 on the crime-solving app CRIMASTER (no, really). That is, he is ranked number 2 but his partner in the duo, uncle Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang), is not ranked as anything. Mostly because he’s an idiot. As an idiot, Tang drags Qin to New York to attend a wedding that is fake (Tang former flame is supposed to be getting married to Tang) only to embroil Qin into a murder mystery with a gang of fellow detectives, go on the run from the NYPD and NYPD Det. Chen Ying (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), find out who killed their benefactor’s, Uncle Seven (Kenneth Tsang), son and possibly not get picked up by bikers to go dancing with.

From the get-go, Sicheng throws everything at you and sees what sticks. We go from the initial setup of one person being dead to a citywide manhunt for the suspect. Inside of this, Tang gibbers in broken English, Qin tries his best not to get unseated by Noda Hiroshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who’s gunning for No. 2 on Crimaster and everyone crowds around Kiko (Shang Yuxian) and her computer (she’s a hacker detective, naturally enough) as she breaks into NYPD camera feeds in mere moments and finds our main suspect Song Yi (Xiao Yang). I swear I could hear Gil Grissom from CSI saying “hit enhance” while this was all going on.

From there, the film kind of becomes unglued as it searches for a tone. It doesn’t want to get too serious with the murders and people trying to chase them down nor does it become too crazy with moments of dourness in the levity. It never knows if you should join the chase as we run through the streets or spill our guts laughing as Song, Tang and Qin try to pull off the worst guys in drag nurses outfits in the history of cinema. Qin and Tang find Song Yi and then Chen’s boss says that if they’re with Song, they are suspects too. I don’t know how that line of logic works but then her boss is framed below a photo of current US President Donald Trump (and has hair like him too) so maybe we shouldn’t be looking for answers here. The film then spends the better part of an hour informing us of who the real suspect is and finding them. I’ve spent time in New York and as they wander around New York in the early hours, I was amazed they managed to find a street that had nobody in it. There’s always someone on the street in New York City. But they go through Grand Central Station and it’s deserted and part of Central Park and there’s not even anyone outside the park. But they do wander the city, trying to avoid the police and a toady of Uncle Seven who wants them for his own purposes, alone and unhindered. I’m struggling to explain myself here but scenes happen and sure, they’re funny, but they don’t amount to anything. There’s a huge set piece where Song, Qin and Tang run for their lives from the goons and across midtown traffic. It’s exciting and funny and throws visual gags, bone-crunching injuries to the cast and a finale that involves the trio hiding in an Irish bar populated with bikers who have Howitzer ship guns mounted to the tables squaring off against a gang of Chinese rent-a-thugs armed with machine guns and bazookas. All of this is funny and amazing, you have a blast but then you realise: that took ten minutes and we still have 80 minutes of film to go. It doesn’t add anything and only when Qin and Tang realise that there’s more than to this one killing than meets the eye does the film finally settle on a tone, which is a murder mystery, complete with CG New York as Qin flies over it in his head, zooming into streets, gathering glues while Tang stands off to the side and just lets him go at it. This film could have stood to lose 25-30 minutes and it wouldn’t have harmed it. The International Detectives Club who show up at the start don’t turn back up again until half an hour before the end and are literally there as a Deux Ex Machina to explain how the heroes make it to the final act and showdown.

The slapstick really holds the film together and the interplay between Qin and Tang is really energetic, screaming at each other when it goes wrong, teasing each other when one is salivating after the object of their affection or urging the one on when the other figures out a clue to the case. The English speaking cast has much more to do here than in a typical Chinese-made film, spending their time trying to either deliver really bad Mandarin to the main leads or staring in mute amazement as three Chinese guys ride a horse and cart at full tilt through Times Square. The cast engages in all-out warfare across hugely staged scenes of mayhem and stupidity. It looks like they’re having fun and so are we when this happens. Wang Baoqiang deserves top marks for making the most of what amounts to the village idiot role in a mainland Chinese comedy. He strives to say the right thing, fails, sets himself up for a fall thanks to some random bystander and then finds the energy to do it again in the next scene. Liu Haoran does get some yuk-yuk’s in but his role is more serious and as the film moves into more serious territory, he spends a good deal of time explaining himself to the audience rather than the cast so we know what he does.

Detective Chinatown 2 isn’t a great film but it isn’t a bad film either. Funny, absurd in places, it reaches to connect the audience with the next scene of calamity so that nobody feels left out. Its only failing is that after a great Miss Marple-esque starting act, the film loses all its steam in a second act that sees us introduced to the film’s main villain, a secondary villain, multiple victims who get their organs ripped out while Tang whines about not being able to claim the 5 million bucks and the audience is left wondering if the cast are in any actual danger or not. Maybe the teased potential third film will find its second wind faster.

Detective Chinatown 2 is in cinemas from today, released in the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand by Cine Asia. See the official website for screening details.

About the author

Phillip O'ConnorPhillip O'Connor Phillip O'Connor
A fan of anime, it helped me to find Hong Kong Action films and later Japanese and Korean cinema. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Chung, they all became my guides to Asian cinema. At the same time, HKL reawakened in me the desire to watch films again... More »
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