Thursday, April 18, 2013

Breaking News

What's this, yet another Johnnie To flick? What am I, curator of the Johnnie To film festival? Actually, it ain't me; GreenCine keeps sending one after another. Guess they're trying to provide me with an impromptu retrospective. And with a filmmaker this good, I hardly mind.

So I just screened Breaking News (2004), a bit of a departure from the To films I've seen heretofore, in that it seeks to lightly satirize the Hong Kong crime film genre, and even inject a bit of social commentary. This is very different from the eight or nine other To films I've seen, all of them action-packed yet generally dour affairs. He acquits himself admirably, but the story suffers from a somewhat claustrophobic location (most of the film plays out inside an apartment building) and repetition (too many cops firing down too many hallways/stairwells at the same half dozen bad guys).

That's not to say there aren't some stunning set pieces. Take the opener, for instance: Mr. To kicks things off with a seven-plus minute continuous crane take that has us peering into windows, prowling the streets, peering around corners, as a tense undercover stakeout explodes into a classic million-bullet gun battle (with some grenades thrown in for good measure).

As with all To films, the cast is strong. One guy who I think has been in every single To outing I've seen is fat, greasy character actor Lam Suet. He's a scream, always delivers. The hero here is the great Nick Cheung (Exiled, Beast Stalker, Election), and as usual, he's a maelstrom of energy as the unstoppable cop. Making things a little easier on the eyes is Kelly Chen (Infernal Affairs), playing the media-savvy police official who manipulates a hostage crisis to improve the image of the police department. She's the machiavel to balance out Nick Cheung's noble warrior.

Overall, I'd give Breaking News an A-. As usual, To gets everything right, but it would have been more fun if we could have gotten out of that damn building!

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