Written by Caballero Oscuro
A ruthless Cambodian hitman enters a grimy Hong Kong restaurant and methodically consumes a huge dim sum feast before killing his target, an elderly female diner at a nearby table. This explosive beginning triggers his pursuit by a relentless and unorthodox young cop determined to make him pay for his crime. It’s a simple enough tale of crime and punishment, but in the hands of director Pou-Soi Cheang it transcends its plot to offer an uncharacteristically gritty view of Hong Kong and an involving character study…at least until the final scenes.
Unlike the typical Hong Kong mix of neon lights, flamboyant gangsters, and scenic harbor views, Cheang’s Hong Kong is an intensely dark, shady metropolis sparsely populated by brutal cops, junkyard transients, and questionable informants. Even during daylight hours, his characters stick to the shadows, making it seem like it’s always nighttime in the city and erasing nearly all color from the surroundings. This gives the setting a Gotham feel, a stark black and white world populated by characters with gray intentions.
Edison Chen plays the assassin Pang, a lone wolf raised from birth to be a killer. He endured a childhood of cage fights to the death and emerged as more animal than man, never trusting or caring about anyone else. The character is remarkably similar to Jet Li’s character in Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog), although Cheang doesn’t go so far to enforce the animal motif other than some questionable barking sound effects during fight scenes. It’s clear that Pang had a rough life and doesn’t give a damn about anyone, so it comes as a surprise when he begins to develop feelings for an emotionally damaged young woman he rescues during his flight from the police.
Sam Lee plays the tortured young cop Ti Wai, a loose cannon who stops at nothing to find his man. He’s had a rough life as well, mostly a result of being emotionally crushed when he learns that the hero cop father he always looked up to as a boy was actually a dirty cop. He has buried his feelings and lives only to make up for the sins of his father, even though he occasionally colors outside the boundaries of the law in his exuberance for justice. Lee puts in a fine performance as Wai, crafting a tough, primal character that nearly erases all memory of his early breakthrough cop role long ago as a goofy, gangly rookie officer in “Gen-X Cops”.
Pang desperately wants to extract himself from Hong Kong but has difficulty figuring out how to escape due to his language barrier. His rescue of the junkyard girl gives him a native speaker and a chance at happiness, but her subsequent injury makes her a liability as he’s forced to choose between continuing his escape or going to ground in Hong Kong to save her. Wai has an almost supernatural ability to stay on his tail no matter how frantically Pang attempts to ditch him. Their inevitable showdown seems to be leading up to a poignant end to the strong story, until the film throws a curveball that sends them out of Hong Kong for the final reel. That’s the exact moment where you can literally watch this fine project fall apart before your eyes, weighed down by an unbelievable detour that leads to an absolutely ridiculous ending.
The DVD release is well above average, sporting a second disc that includes a behind the scenes feature as well as individual interviews with the stars and director.