07 July 2008

Mad Detective

Directed by: Johnnie To & Wai Ka Fai
Written by: Wai Ka Fai & Au Kin Yee
Full Credits from IMDb

Grade: A


When the film opens, Lau Ching Wan, a police investigator, asks a colleague to zip him up in a suitcase and toss him down the stairs. Several flights later, Lau emerges from the bag and declares: “the killer is the ice-cream shop owner!” In the next scene, the police chief congratulates him for a case well solved; Lau responds by cutting off his ear and handing it over. Cue the credits: Mad Detective. To gets right to it—that titular adjective is no overstatement.

Superdetectives, from Sherlock Holmes and his perceptive rationalism to Special Agent Dale Cooper and his intuitive mysticism, have long fascinated audiences; Mad Detective (Sun Taam) taps into that appeal immediately. More Cooper than Holmes, Lau, the Kôji Yakusho to To’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, can see and hear people’s (sometimes copious) inner personalities; he can also, by retracing a killer’s, or victim’s, footsteps, tap into their past experiences or come into contact with their spirits. That explains the opening suitcase episode.

Lau’s gift leads to several stirring set pieces: burying himself alive, pretending to shoot convenience store clerks and security guards with his fingers, turning 90 degrees from a urinal to pee on the leg of a suspect. But, for all its absurdity and hilarity, Mad Detective never slips into goofiness or spoofiness; it never loses the overriding solemnity of a psychological procedural. Miraculously, the film keeps a straight face even while it’s smiling.


To, who shares the directing duties here with regular collaborator Wai Ka Fai, has had a propensity as of late for Western hemisphere pastiche, from the funereal atmosphere of the Coppola-esque Election dyad to the Sergio Leone style, neo-Western hyperviolence of Exiled. This film leans more towards the 21st Century Hollywood homages of Bong Joon-Ho who has, in this decade alone, already reinvented the standard for both the buddy cop picture and the monster movie by filtering tired Western modes through a fresh Eastern mind.

Mad Detective is a character study, a cinematic literalization of multiple personality disorder without the corny pretense of disposable dreck like Identity. A complex editing structure, which blends the objective and subjective, the past and present, helps the filmmakers keep their hero’s reliability ambiguous, giving them space to take off on the undependability of heroic archetypes and the toll mental illness takes on its victims (both the sufferer and his loved ones). But the film’s psychological and metaliterary complexities take a backseat to its madcap pleasures, derived mostly from watching Lau on his batshit visionquests. Mad Detective, at root, is a flawless genre film.


Watch the trailer:

1 comment:

Loukas said...

Great movie. And i really liked "The Mission" also.