Director: Fung Chih-Chiang
Cast: Louis Koo, Jessica Hsuan, Louis Cheong, Philip Keung, Fiona Sit, Patrick Tam, Andy On
Runtime: 1 hr 44 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Drug Use and Violence)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: October 2019
Synopsis: Detective Frank Lam (Louis Cheung) arrives at the scene with his commanding officer Yip Sir (Philip Keung) to find a dead man inside an apartment with a strange noise “Help! Help!” next to its body. Yip Sir is convinced the deceased is killed by his partner in crime, Sunny Wong (Louis Koo) when they had a fight over how to divvy up the loot from an armed robbery a month ago. When confronted by Frank, Sunny denies all allegations and names Yip Sir as the killer. Frank’s only hope in cracking the case lies in sole survivor and eye witness at the crime scene – a parrot!
It’s no secret that Louis Koo is the most hardworking actor in Hong Kong, and if you’re counting, ‘A Witness Out of the Blue’ is his sixth theatrical release in 2019 alone. Yet Koo’s role here as a mentally tortured bank robber is probably one of the more interesting ones among these movies, and also allows him to demonstrate how he’s matured over the years as a character actor. Oh yes, it isn’t the first time he’s playing a bad guy, but Koo brings surprising gravitas to the wanted criminal named Sean Wong here, who is both on the run from the police and on the hunt for the killer(s) behind the murders of his fellow gang members.
Combining the genre elements of a cops-and-robbers actioner with that of a murder mystery, writer/ director Fung Chih Chiang has crafted a taut crime thriller with intriguing psychological undertones. The deceased in question is Sean’s associate (Deep Ng), who like Sean, is wanted by the police for his role in a jewellery heist three months ago. A food delivery man had seen Sean fleeing the scene of the murder just before the former had called the police, leading Senior Inspector Yip (Philip Keung) to conclude that Sean must have been the killer. Yip is also the lead investigator on the robbery, and had lost a colleague that evening in an ensuing shootout, so is understandably bent on bringing Sean and his gang to justice.
On the other hand, his subordinate Lam (Louis Cheung) is not quite as convinced, especially as a string of supposed accidents also claim the lives of the other members of Sean’s gang (played by Sam Lee and Ling Man Lung). Lam also has an early run-in with Sean while pursuing a lead, and Sean asserts during that brief encounter that he is not the murderer. Just as importantly, Lam trusts the words (or more accurately, the squawks) of a parrot which was found at the scene of the earlier murder – and could therefore be the only witness to the crime – which does not point to Sean as the killer; instead, Lam suspects it could be one of the victims of the earlier heist, including the butcher Yiu (Patrick Tam) whose mother died from a heart attack triggered by the shock, the saleswoman Yang (Fiona Sit) now wheelchair-bound due to a spinal injury, and Yang’s boyfriend He (Andy On) who was the guard on duty.
While it is what the movie’s supposed high-concept premise rests on, the aforementioned avian figures little in the narrative itself, and in fact only pops up now and then to lend some offbeat humour. Much of the storytelling is otherwise driven by Sean and Lam’s own investigation of the murder(ers) behind the string of deaths, and let’s just say that Lam’s boss Yip is also among one of the suspects given his disposition for vengeance. To Fung’s credit, the clues do add up convincingly enough to justify the final reveal, and the mystery well-paced from start to finish in order to hold your attention till the very end, even as you’d wish he had been more ambitious to lean in on the more eccentric part of his story (i.e. the parrot) in the first place.
Where it does get interesting is in portraying Sean’s mental state, especially as he races against time – but fails – to save them from the series of methodical killings. There is a subplot that sees Sean forging an emotional bond with his landlord Ding (Jessica Hsuan), which thanks to Koo and Hsuan’s easy chemistry, adds a welcome dose of humanity into the proceedings. Playing the bad guy whose moral compass may not be as crooked after all, and therefore is losing sleep and suffering hallucinations over the deaths of his fellow gang members as well as the fallout from the heist, Koo pulls off a nuanced and compelling performance which elevates the material over what is an otherwise above-average story. It’s a crowded ensemble given the multiple subplots, but Koo’s leading act is never lost amidst the other strong supporting performances.
So even though six movies in a year seriously risks over-exposure, we dare say you will still be captivated by Koo’s commitment to his role here. Certainly, the movie itself is a gripping watch, with screenwriter-turned-director Fung executing what is probably his most confident feature film to date. The whole ‘parrot-as-eyewitness’ premise may come off gimmicky, but Fung is deft enough not to let it turn his movie into caricature, and in fact de-emphasises it to the extent we’d wish he had given it more play in the plot itself. It is though a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable Hong Kong-styled murder mystery cum cops-and-robbers thriller, and we guarantee won’t leave you feeling blue.
(Boosted by a surprisingly compelling performance by Louis Koo, this murder mystery cum cops-and-robbers Hong Kong crime thriller is a taut and intriguing watch)
Review by Gabriel Chong