Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"Infernal Affairs" trilogy
Billed as the "Infernal Affairs" for 2012, debutant writers-directors Sunny Luk and Longman Leung have a lot riding on their shoulders. Fortunately, their efforts pay off in the form of an exciting Hong Kong political cop drama film that is also shameless in its political commentary on Hong Kong's status.
Almost every ten minutes the film's dialogue touches on or hammers home a line about Hong Kong's status, laws and changing identity 15 years after the handover to China. As the main characters reiterates over and over again, Hong Kong is known as the safest country in the world, with top-notch and sophisticated security systems, which is why Waise M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka-fai), Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operation), demands to know why a police van loaded with five cops has been hijacked and worse, has vanished from the police radar. It is then revealed that the reason for Lee's agitation is that his son, Joe K.C. Lee (Eddie Peng), is among the kidnapped officers, which raises concerns that he is unable to act objectively, evidenced by his declaration of a major state of alert and then harshly refuses to let his press officer (Charlie Yeung) release info to the public. This leads his rival, Sean K.F. Lau (Aaron Kwok), Deputy Commissioner of Police, to stage an intervention, forcing M.B. Lee to step down from his role as Acting Commissioner of Police with a legal stratagem, political support from above, and some arm-twisting.
If that description was confusing, that is because "Cold War" is so. The first half of the film did nothing to nurture interest in the developing narrative, due to its overly convoluted nature. In the opening, a bomb blasts through a crowded film theatre. At almost the same time, an arrogant drunk driver speeds through the city's freeways and totals his car, which leads an Emergency Unit (E.U.) van to stop and question the man. Next, the scene cut to a skimpily-dressed lady getting out of bed, after which her house is stormed by a group of men in black, who turn out to be members of the authorities sent to wake up her lover, who, apparently, sleeps like the dead, going so far as to force a slushy down his throat. The breakneck pace of the film may raise more than a few eyebrows, with plotlines and dialogue continually thrown at the viewer that leaves no time for digestion so everything seems tossed in by Sunny Luk and Longman Leung for the sake of upping the stakes.
It is only in the second half that "Cold War" turns into something more than a quicksilver procedural, with hidden agendas and political conspiracies brought to light. In addition, the superficial commentary on Hong Kong as a safe country turns into an exploration of corruption and institutional power plays. One notable scene is when the two deputy HK police commissioners: youthful by-the-book Sean Lau and radical M.B. Lee who is pushing retirement age, confront each other in a high-tension exchange. Another is when M.B. Lee is brought in for questioning for Billy K.B. Cheung (Aarif Lee), ICAC Principal Investigation Officer. The former manages to turn the situation on the young, brilliant, maddeningly green hotshot, advising the latter to learn "the rules of the game", which reveals a lesson on age and experience and the aforementioned power play.
This also demonstrates the superb acting skills of the film's local stars Tony Leung Ka-fai and Aaron Kwok, which further expands the film's appeal, but that is all. Both do their best to keep the film afloat but neither is able to deliver the necessary performances to elevate the film beyond choppy waters. Other key characters like Senior Superintendents Albert C.L. Kwong (Gordon Lam) and Vincent W.K. Tsui (Chin Kar-lok) have almost no background story, which makes it difficult for viewers to empathize and sympathize with their choices and actions. On the other hand, they still have it better than characters like Charlie Yeung's Phoenix C.M. Leung and Terence Yin's Man To, both of which are so forgettable that it would have made more sense if they were not hired in the first place so that more budget can be spent on the special effects instead.
The computer-generated imagery (CGI) is poorly done; creating a film that looks like it needs a fine polish in places. However, cinematographers Jason Kwan and Kenny Tse's choice to drain the colour out of the cinematography in "Cold War", leaving only shades of grey, which helps enforce the film's genre as a political cop drama together with the lack of score, save for during the action work. Further, their sweeping crane and aerial shots of night-time Hong Kong and its neon-lit buildings are gorgeous and exciting. Even then, this semi-actioner has no one-on-one, mano-a-mano fight scenes in it, which is a rare example of genre-bending.
The bottom line is, "Cold War" is one of those who suffer from too much hype, but manages to somewhat balances itself upright on the tightrope with enough twists and action-packed sequences. First-time directors Leung and Luk have also grasped some of the better aspects of film-making, such as their understanding of onscreen action, which bodes well for them, as long as they do not get carried away and keep their plot complications less overly so.Cinema Online, 31 October 2012