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Original Title:
Sun taam

Hong Kong 2007

Crime, Drama

Johnnie To

Wai Ka-Fai
Lau Ching Wan
Andy On
Gordon Lam Ka-Tung
Kelly Lin
Lam Suet
Eddie Cheung
Lee Kwok-Lun
Flora Chan
Lee Choi-ning
Jay Lau
Kuk Jo
Yuen Ling To
Eddy Ko
Jonathan Lee
Ronald Yan

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Mad Detective

Story: Inspector Ho (Andy On) is stuck in the case he is working on. 18 months ago Cop Wong went missing during a routine operation, and since then there hasn't been a single clue about his whereabouts. However, lately there have been commited some crimes with Wong's gun. In an act of desperation Ho approaches Inspector Bun (Lau Ching-Wan), who has been forced to retire, but who is somewhat like an idol for Ho. Yet, as time goes by Ho has to realize that Bun isn't only a very eccentric individual, but that he also seems to be completely nuts. Not only does he believe that his wife May (Kelly Lin) is still at his side, but he also sees the different inner personalities of any individual. Ho is torn between the genius and the madness that is combined within Inspector Bun.
Bun soon has a hot trail. He suspects cop Chi-wai (Gordon Lam Ka-Tung), who was with Wong when he disappeared, to be involved in the case. Bun finds out that Chi-wai is a man with an extremely complex character, as he is making out 7 different personalities in him. Bun and Ho follow their hot lead, but at some point during the operation Ho isn't sure anymore, if he can really trust Bun's sanity...

Review: If the names Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai pop up you instantly have to think of their production company Milkyway Image. This company provided us with many small gems like "The Longest Nite" or "Expect the Unexpected", and for most fans it's enough to see their logo appear in the opening of a HK-film, to make them jump for joy. Of course, one man who was always attached to To and Wai until recently was their apparent favorite actor Lau Ching-Wan. In "Mad Detective" Lau finally takes on the leading role in a Milkyway flick after quite some time of absence, and he once again impresses with his great acting diversity and proficiency.
All in all, Johnnie To's and Wai Ka-Fai's work, who also share the seat on the director's chair, delivers everything a fan could ask for, even though those who aren't familiar with the way To and Wai shoot their movies might feel a bit put off by the oddly ironic origin of humor and the wacky mystic elements.

The movie's main plot is actually quite simple. A rookie gets an old-timer back into police service for him to help him solve a specially difficult case. That's not really inventive, but fortunately the movie doesn't resolve around this plot. "Mad Detective" completely focuses on and works with Inspector Bun and his strange investigation methods, or I should say his "skills". His skills may seem somewhat supternatural, but then again, maybe the multipe personalities he sees in a person are simply a visualisation of character traits, the inspector discovers with the help of observation and deduction. Anyway, we get to know that Bun is completely off his rocker already very early on in the movie. To let oneself be thrown down the stairway in a bag, to be able to get into the mind-set of the victim and the culprit, is one thing, but to cut off one's ear as a present for your police chief's retirement celebration is another thing, and really crosses the line of sanity.

"Mad Detective" tries to toy with the fact that Bun isn't of sound mind. There is his wife, who in reality isn't at his side anymore, but who he imagines to be whereever he goes. Bun can't distinguish between reality and wishful thinking anymore, but it seems to be exactly this madness that allows him to look into the mind of other people. This is where it gets interesting, as he starts to see quite a bunch of different personalities in the suspect Chi-Wai. You also shouldn't be surprised when you get to see seven different individuals walking down the street, instead of Chi-Wai, because the film oftentimes shows us the events from Bun's viewing angle. That can also be pretty funny, e.g. when we get to see the seven personalities squashing into one single car.
Unfortunately, at other points the film surprisingly holds back concerning the drawing of the inner personalities of other characters of the movie. Here, the moviemakers undoubtedly wasted some potential, especially concerning Inspector Ho, whose inner personality emerges too late in the movie.

The rest of the film naturally revolves around the fact, if Bun is actually right about Chi-Wai being the culprit, or if he simply has gotten insane. Throughout the middle of the film the directors try to steer us into this direction on several occasions, e.g. by suddenly making the real ex-wife of Bun appear, yet it somehow isn't enough for us to question Bun's genius concerning the case. Maybe this is partly to blame on Lau Ching-Wan's fantastic acting performance, which lets this detective, who is walking on the edge of madness, seem so incredibly sympathetic. Lau plays his role in a nicely done wacky way and with enough pecularities, that we just have to start liking him. In contrast to him Andy On ("New Police Story", "Black Mask 2"), who plays Detective Ho, seems rather shallow. We can't relate to him and he remains a trite side character, who is just supposed to raise some tension with his actions and decisions. Because, in the end, it's not about if the viewer believes Bun to be on the right track, but Ho. And Ho starts to become more and more certain that Bun is a ticking time bomb.

Gordon Lam gets down to action as the villian, and he does such a good job as the corrupt policeman, that we actually never doubt him to be the true culprit. The cast gets complemented by some regular Milkyway-faces like Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung or also Kelly Lin.
Ultimately, "Mad Detective" may be somewhat convoluted, which is no surprise taking into account Bun's mind-set, but the story itself remains quite comprehensible. It's just that towards the end we are supposed to lose more and more track, if Bun is actually right about his assumptions or if he is just mad by now. Sadly, this doesn't work out as intended, since Lau Ching-Wan is simply too charismatic, so that we can't feel any aversion to him. And especially not since the only alternative is the unrefined sidekick of Bun, Inspector Ho. Luckily, the film remains quite thrilling, and the story proves to be as off the wall as it is enthralling. A little bit of dark deadpan humor thrown in, too, and you got a film that may not be for everyone's taste, but which deserves a good amount of goodwill for its basic plot idea, a certain kind of abstractness and appealing Milkyway flair. A movie that is recommended to any HK-fan with a weakness for the unusual.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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