Action / Thrillers, Category III, Films, Hong Kong, Recommended posts, Reviews

Mad Detective

An inventively twisted tale from directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai (Fulltime Killer, Running On Karma, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts). Finally the Hong Kong thriller is back on form – Korea watch out!…

Part of a long-running series of collaborations between directors Johnnie To (Election, Exiled, Heroic Trio) and Wai Ka-Fai (Peace Hotel), Mad Detective is the latest of their inventive takes on genres following such films as Fulltime Killer, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts and Running On Karma. And with one of their favourite stars, Lau Chin Wan (Lost In Time, Victim, The Longest Nite), at the helm, it’s perhaps their most successful partnership yet…

Lau stars as retired Inspector Chan Kwai Bun, a once brilliant detective with an exceptional track record for solving case, but his increasingly peculiar methods and behaviour saw him leave the force soon after offering a superior officer (Eddy Ko in a welcome cameo) his ear, Vincent Van Gogh style.

Years later Inspector Ho Ka On (Andy On, Invisible Target, Election 2, Fatal Contact), who served with Bun shortly before the incident, tracks him down to ask for his help on a case. Police detective Wong has been missing for 18 months since he and his partner Ko Chi-Wai (Lam Ka-Tung, Election, Exiled, Infernal Affairs) confronted a suspect. Since then Wong’s gun has been used in several armed robberies.

Since leaving the force Bun’s methods have become no less bizarre, indeed he now believes he can see peoples ‘inner personalities’, or hidden ghosts, that reflect their real traits and motives. He also speaks to his ex-wife, a construct of his own imagination, as his own wife left him months before. Suspecting Chi-Wai from the start, he sees seven different personalities surrounding Chi-Wai, from the gluttonous ‘Fatso’ (Lam Suet) to the cunning brain (Jay Lau).

Ho becomes gradually more concerned about Bun’s sanity, fearing him completely deluded he begins to doubt all his theories and ignore his warnings. But just because Bun is insane doesn’t mean he not right…

It’s by no means the first time we’ve been presented by an unhinged detective with an uncanny knack to solving cases – from Sherlock Holmes through Zero Effect’s rock and roll wannabe to TV’s agoraphobic Monk, ticks and quirks have been exploited to create characters whose very detachment from humanity makes them its most perceptive judges. Only rarely have their methods been so dangerous, or played with such aplomb!

Certainly it’s another fine performance by Lau Chin Wan, who for too long has long gone seemingly unnoticed by audiences in the West. He presents us with such a fully-formed character as Bun it’s hard not to want to see more of him, pitching his character note perfect to convey the dark humour of the script with his peculiarly under-developed social skills. (And for that reason alone you may well find the conclusion a little unsatisfying!)

Undoubtedly the finest character actor in Hong Kong, and therefore by default a contender for the world, Lau has often cut a less photogenic lead than Tony Leung or Chow Yun-Fat. Yet from the very beginning, even in his smallest or most unlikely roles, he has stood out with exceptional performances – often far more worthy than the films themselves. Think of him as a latter day De Niro – when he was still good! (Mind you, like De Niro, Lau has also made some poor choices!)

Don’t look for any major revelations in Wai Ka-Fai and Au Kin-Yee’s script. It’s not about the ‘cleverness’ of last minute twists, but rather a study in characterisation with an almost nihilistic view of humanity and how little it can take to corrupt a seemingly morale person (especially when their career is on the line) – a recurring theme in both Ka-Fai and Johnnie To’s work. It is, however, a delightfully rounded script, full of great lines and imaginative ideas. Together To and Ka-Fai bring it to life with nice, claustrophobic cinematography by Cheng Siu-Keung. And like most of Johnnie To’s movies, the editing is tight with an under 90 minute running time, though again, you may well ultimately wish it was longer.

Noticeably it steers clear of the sentimentality so abundant in Asian cinema and particularly in Hong Kong. Indeed, with it’s Canto-pop-ballad avoiding soundtrack, you almost feel that the directors are definitely targeting a wider international audience, namely the West. Despite that Mad Detective performed very reasonably at the Hong Kong box office, even though it was rated a Category III – that death knell for audience figures much like an 18 in the states – as there was one cut Johnnie To refused to make.

Mad Detective is a superb, inventive thriller that proves that Hong Kong can still call the shots against upstarts like South Korea – even if it doesn’t quite fulfill it’s potential and definitely leaves you wanting more!

(Which, without giving too much of the plot away, may be a problem – but if Hong Kong cinema has proved nothing else, there is very little that can get in the way of a franchise!)

Mad Detective is available on Dual Format on Monday 13th February from Eureka’s Masters Of Cinema imprint.

Home media details

Distributor: Masters Of Cinema / Eureka (UK)

Edition: Dual Format - DVD and Blu-ray (2012)

This edition comes with both DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film including:

Carefully created new English subtitles

Q&A with Johnnie To at the Cinémathèque Française Johnnie To retrospective (Paris, France, March 2008) – 35 minutes

Exclusive cast interviews shot during the Far East Film Festival featuring Lau Ching Wan, and Lam Suet (Udine, Italy, April 2008) – 14 minutes

Interview with Johnnie To for the French theatrical release of Mad Detective (France, 4th March 2008) – 21 minutes

Original UK theatrical trailer

16-page booklet containing specially commissioned essay by David Bordwell (Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Blu-ray only special features: • 1080p, 24fps, state of the art AVC encode, 2.35:1 original aspect ratio

DD2.0, DD5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks

480p NTSC extras, playable on all machines

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment (UK)

Both DVD and Blu -ray releases will include:

Q&A with Johnnie To at the Cinémathèque Française - Johnnie To retrospective

Exclusive cast interviews shot during the Far East Film Festival featuring Lau Ching Wan, and Lam Suet

Interview with Johnnie To for the French theatrical release of Mad Detective

Original UK theatrical trailer

16-page booklet containing specially commissioned essay by David Bordwell (Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies,University of Wisconsin-Madison)

About the author

Andrew Heskins
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
Read all posts by Andrew Heskins

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