Alan Mak and Felix Chong (Infernal Affairs trilogy) join forces again to create a true mystery that will have audiences wondering what the hell is going on in their film Lady Cop and Papa Crook. ‘Tis anyone’s guess because it doesn’t seem like the writing and directing team have a handle on it either. The movie sounds good in theory – so many do – but ultimately suffers from numerous inconsistencies and general dullness of character and plot.
The story pairs Sammi Cheng as lady cop Maureen Szeto and Eason Chan as papa crook John Fok. Maureen is a detective who, when she’s not taking down criminals, worries that she is frittering her life away with her artist boyfriend (Conroy Chan) of ten years. She crosses paths with John when she leads the investigation into his son’s kidnapping, which is complicated and/or caused by the fact that he runs an illegal diesel operation.
Mak and Chong wanted to explore the dramatic tension generated when cops and robbers are thrown together in a confined space, so Wikipedia tells me, and the story has potential to match their darker dramatic efforts, but with Cheng in the lead, the film could have also veered towards the comedic. Instead of settling on one or attempting a coherent balance, however, the filmmakers use all the tools in the box and send the movie’s tone ricocheting from one end to the other. In the space of five minutes, John’s associates commit a brutal murder that feels like something out of Election only for Maureen to crawl into the screen on all fours à la Love Undercover a few scenes later.
It’s hard to know what to take seriously, and it doesn’t help that the two leads don’t seem to be acting together. When Cheng and Chan share screen time, it’s as if they’re drawing from two different scripts, and both leave the scene looking a little helpless. Thankfully, the story avoids pairing the two characters in a romantic relationship, though both actors still lack chemistry with their onscreen partners.
Others try to fill in the gaps; Patrick Tam delivers a particularly juicy cameo as a competing triad boss, and Liu Kai-Chi also makes the most of his memorable role as a fiery member of John’s inner circle. But even as performers flare up individual scenes, the fire quickly fades, and the sum of their performances never adds to the tension and urgency of what should be a heart-pounding thriller.
Some might blame the film’s mediocrity on Mainland censors, which sliced six minutes from the original cut. I’m guessing this was due to a subplot involving the death of an officer’s wife and child, thus causing him to act in a vengeful and not entirely upstanding manner. Since I watched the director’s version and didn’t feel like sitting through the theatrical release, I don’t know how many holes were punctured in the plot. But we can probably agree that the censors don’t tend to improve on a film.
If the film does earn any points, it should be for featuring a relatively competent woman as a lead investigator of a major crime. Cheng still dips into her screwball comedy tricks bag and acts unprofessionally on several occasions, which the filmmakers decide to blame on female issues like pregnancy and a cheating boyfriend. (A fellow male officer asks, “You have shit for brains or PMS?”) However, Maureen is clever and gets the job done despite being a bit flighty. The movie also goes above and beyond, by Hong Kong standards, and features Michelle Lo in a visible supporting part as another member of the investigation. It’s too bad Michelle Ye, who plays John’s pregnant wife, doesn’t do much except get really emotional. Girl, I feel you.
“Hide and Seek” (捉迷藏) – theme song by Sammi Cheng:
Prod: John Chong 莊澄
Dir: Alan Mak 麥兆輝; Felix Chong 莊文強
Writer: Alan Mak 麥兆輝; Felix Chong 莊文強
Cast: Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Gordon Cheung 張國立; Dong Yong 董勇; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Michelle Ye 葉璇; Kate Tsui 徐子珊; Wilfred Lau 劉浩龍; Conroy Chan 陳子聰; Patrick Tam 譚耀文; Kenny Wong 黃德斌; Buzz Chung 鍾紹圖; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Jo Kuk 谷祖琳; Michelle Lo 盧覓雪; Richie Ren 任賢齊
Time: 97 min (91 min, Director’s Cut)
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong