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  Publicity Stills of "The Detective"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Director: Oxide Pang
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Liu Kai Chi, Jo Koo
RunTime: 1 hr 49 mins
Released By: Shaw & Innoform Media
Rating: PG (Some Disturbing Content and Brief Nudity

Opening Day: 4 October 2007


Tam (Aaron Kwok) is an impoverished private detective. One day, a guy nicknamed Fatty asked him to find a lady, Sum who wanted to kill him. He left Tam a photo of Sum and his offer without elaborating the details. Tam could not resist the temptation of Fatty’s offer and the investigation commences.

Knowing that Sum is a regular patron of this store where the picture is taken, Tam tries to get gather clues of Sum’s whereabouts from store keepers. Tam is told to try looking up Sum’s mahjong playmate, who may be able to help him. Tam starts with Ming; he arrives at Ming’s home and is shocked to discover that Ming hung himself at the living room! Tam finds a few photos in Ming’s cell phone and identified Ying, another mahjong playmate in the store. Tam believes Ying is innocent but gather clues that Ming’s business partner, Fong may be involved. Tam follows the clues and found Fong’s address. Fong is found dead in his house! Soon, Tam’s buddy, police officer Jack confirms both deaths are suicide cases due to huge debts. But the most contradicting and puzzling part: large amount of cash are found at the two victims’ houses.

Gradually, Tam becomes more intrigued with the case and continued investigation, he finally finds out the two victims’ common business partner, Choi. While arriving at Choi’s place, Tam is bewildered at the sight of Choi: as Choi is also Fatty, the one who engage him in this puzzling case. At this instance, the panic-stricken Choi went berserk and wanted to kill himself. Before Choi leaps off the building, he uttered ‘leave me alone!’ in Mandarin with a terrified expression.

After Choi’s death, Tam decides to clear his mind and piece up all the evidences, photos and clues he gathered at the recent sites of deaths. While he is deep in thoughts, a stranger, Wing calls. Wing calls Tam to seek help as he claimed to be in danger. From the call, Tam can also hear Wing quarreling with a lady. Tam decides to meet Wing to investigate, but upon pressing the door bell of Wing’s home, a destructive explosion was triggered, eliminating further clues to the case…

Tam gathers that all these suicides are not normal. He finds a half-burnt photo at the last victim’s scene and discovers that Ming, Fong, Choi and Wing are all friends! The other person in the photo, a bank manager, Hung should be the only one alive who knows the secret behind the recent and sudden deaths of the others. Tam decides to protect Hung as he presumed Hung must be the next target of the invisible “murderer”.

Tam follows Hung to the dark corner of a street, a lady with long hair appears and approaches Hung. Tam catches up with her but carelessly falls into a rift, when the police arrive, they save Tam…and at the same time found the remains of a lady!

It was certified soon that the remains found are those of Sum… Tam looks at the group photos again with sorrow, a vague shadow comes across the photo and he is suddenly inspired…there should the sixth person in the photo, he left out the one who took the picture! Could the person who took the photo knows of the mystery or curse behind the recent deaths? Tam promises to find out…

Movie Review:

I've said before that the works of the Pang brothers are hit and miss, then again it's not always easy to think up of original creative work to wow an audience each time. I enjoyed their earlier film Bangkok Dangerous, and in between they did the popular Eye franchise movies. While recent works like Re-cycle and The Messengers for Hollywood were mediocre at best, I can never forget "Diary" which was below par at best.

Sometimes in trying to hard to surprise an audience with smart twists, it ends up backfiring and dragging out the final act, and unfortunately that's what happens to The Detective, essentially an Aaron Kwok vehicle in an almost one man show for the most parts. If you think he didn't deserve his acting award for "Divergence" then this other detective role provided him the necessary platform for him to show off his range of skills in handling dramatic material.

Not since Inside Man did the opening credit sequence song got me grooving to the beat. Thai song Me Panda provided the perfect start to The Detective, accentuating the Chinese title that Kwok's character is a C+ grade private investigator at best, as he operates and lives in a grimy home office in the gritty streets of an unnamed Thai city, definitely not having made it big. The introduction plays out like typical detective noir, where potential business comes knocking, and provides the catalyst and spark to everything else that follows in the investigations.

Kwok's Tam is obsessive in his doggedness to get to the bottom of mysteries, though often his theories get debunked through very obvious and superficial logic. And as a reward to the audience, proving these theories is where the fun begins, as you get engaged in this investigative journey with Tam, and through his eyes, sieve through the multitudes of red herrings, courtesy of the numerous supporting acts, that get thrown your way. Most times it involves some pursuit, and I felt that the repetitiveness of it all within the same sequence took away some of its shine.

But what was top notch was the building up of anticipation. Here's where the Pang bag of tricks gets dipped into again, with tight camera angles complimenting the gorgeously gritty, dirty surroundings, and punctuated with excellent sound design that builds perfect tension. You might identify these tricks as the usual from their horror movies, but when translated over for a crime thriller, they work just as well, if not better this time round. The mystery that plays out might be just plain straightforward and ordinary, if not for the sound to add an extra dimension.

And here's where I found some issue with the billing of the movie as a supernatural thriller. On its own without any supernatural elements, it will probably still work, though that's not what you come to expect from a Pang brother(s) work right? However with the karmic and the spiritual worked in and for the most parts being absent from the narrative, it somehow lent itself to drag the ending a tad too long, and repeated some of the obvious just to reinforce, or in an extreme, force fitted these elements in. Without these references, I felt there were enough nice touches within the development and revelation of the mystery, though it did sag somewhere in the mid section before picking itself up again.

The Detective is still recommended for the visuals, sound design and Kwok's charismatic one man show, and I must add it does have a pretty nifty special effects shot during a revelation which impressed me. It tied up the loose ends pretty much, and while I don't see there being a sequel, there certainly is much potential to the character.

Movie Rating:

(The C+ Detective is worth at least a B!)

Review by Stefan Shih


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