Mad Detective Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai

Mad Detective Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai
Few developments in recent world cinema have been more depressing than the long, slow implosion of the Hong Kong film industry. A scant 15 years ago, when the likes of John Woo, Wong Kar-wai, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam were at their peaks, the colony featured one of the most dynamic and innovative film industries in the world. But around the time of the 1997 Chinese handover, hampered by rampant piracy, increasing competition from the American market and just plain old bad movies, the Hong Kong industry experienced a continuous decline so devastating that the number of major films produced annually has gone from over 300 to only around 50. One of the few bright spots in contemporary Hong Kong cinema is Johnnie To, whose prolific body of work (including Election, Breaking News and Exiled) has been skilful in blending of art and commerce. Mad Detective, directed with his sometimes partner Wai Kai-Fai, is an entertaining thriller worthy of mention alongside the rest of To's oeuvre. Andy On Chi-Kit plays a young officer whose inability to make progress on an important case leads him to turn to Lau Chin-Wan, a demented but brilliant discharged police officer whose methods involve a combination of near-psychic powers and outright insanity (he severs his own ear to make a point). Mad Detective is a frantic, good-looking mixture of John Woo-style gunplay and rather outlandish physical comedy, and if it lacks the moral and dramatic heft of some of To and Wai's other films it's still a slick and energetic piece of commercial filmmaking, with considerably more spunk than most of Hollywood's earnest, unremarkable recent thrillers. (And the severed ear scene is the best since Blue Velvet.) Mongrel Media's DVD presentation comes with sharp image quality but not a single extra. It's unsurprising for a niche title but disappointing nonetheless. (Mongrel Media)