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Original Title:
Hak bak do

Hong Kong 2006

Crime, Drama

Herman Yau

Nick Cheung
Anthony Wong
Francis Ng
Derek Tsang
Rain Li
Johnny Chen
Poon Yuen-Leung
Frankie Chin
Pauline Yam
Chik King-Man
Raymond Tsang
Eddie Pang

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On the Edge

Story: Harry (Nick Cheung) is working as an undercover cop for years. After collecting evidence against his boss Dark (Francis Ng) for about four years, the police makes its move and takes Dark into custody. For Harry this means that he can finally work as a normal detective again. However, he has to find out that his colleagues don't trust him anymore and still see him as one of the gangsters he actually betrayed.
Harry lost all of his former friends in the triad organisation, especially his buddy Mini B (Derek Tsang). Even his girlfriend Cat (Rain Li) doesn't want to see him again. Moreover, Harry is assigned as the new partner of tough cop Lung (Anthony Wong), who doesn't really play by the rules and likes to use force whenever it may be helpful. Being on patrol, Harry is now standing on the other side of the law as he meets his former friends and has to treat them as gangsters. When it comes to gangsters his partner Lung has the habit to mistreat them in a brutal manner, so that Harry soon has to ask himself where he is standing in this world. He doesn't get accepted as a cop by his colleagues, the Internal Affairs department is tailing him and he has lost all his friends. Harry has an identity crisis and as if this wouldn't be enough, he also gets framed by Tung (Johnny Chen) who wants to take Dark's place...

Review: Herman Yau creates an interesting drama with this return to the good old-HK days. Unfortunately, the movie promises to be more of an action-thriller than it actually is. "On the Edge" is in no way as entertaining as you might have hoped for, and thus the engaging main plot along with some nice performances of the actors remains the only thing that this movie might be remembered of. Yau's work falls behind what this drama had the potential to be, which surely is because of his dull directing and a somewhat bad structured script. How much the movie really lacks any emotional impact becomes especially apparent after the anticlimactic ending. Yau's look at the world of gangsters and the drama revolving around an undercover cop proves to be narrated too cold and distant for the film to succeed to entertain the audience until the very end. However, the director's ambitions deserve some appreciation, because he manages at least partly to make a movie that fits perfectly into what made Hong Kong movies so special and successful in the good old days.

The plot may remind you of "Infernal Affairs", but undercover stories have always been the HK-filmmaker's favorites. This time, however, the plot focuses on the life of a cop after successfully bringing his undercover operation to an end. Our hero, Harry, realizes that he isn't a real cop anymore, at least when he takes into account what his colleagues think about him. He is an outsider among the cops and even doesn't get invited to official meetings. This is even more tough for Harry as he had to make many sacrifices in order to be an official part of the police force again. His friends call him a traitor and even his girlfriend turns away from him. Rain Li, who's playing Cat, may have some emotional scenes with Nick Cheung, but it's just these scenes that show how little the movie has to offer on this level. Somehow these scenes lack something essential. Maybe it's just Nick Cheung's melancholic acting that has to be blamed for this matter, but it's really hard to pinpoint.

Anyway, I could never understand why Cheung gets so much praise as an actor. Sure, he isn't that bad and since he lacks your typical on-screen charisma, he is a refreshing and interesting face in the business. Yet his performances always seem a bit distant and cold. This time it's not any different, but at least it fits well into the movie and coincides with his role, so that you can't really blame him for anything. It's rather the dry directing and the slow pacing that will always create a certain emotional space between you and the events on screen. Fortunately, "On the Edge" has a great supporting cast. Anthony Wong leaves no doubt that cops can actually be more scary and brutal than gangsters, without becoming a stereotype of the bad cop. Especially at the end when he holds his speech, we get to know that there is more under the surface of his character than we might have thought.
Francis Ng undoubtedly provides the best performance. He may be a gangster, but a very likeable and charismatic one at that. Also deserving some words of praise is Derek Tsang, son of Eric Tsang, who delivers a very multilayered character. Having to compete with these great performances, Nick Cheungs effort comes a bit too short every now and then.

In order the make the film more engaging the present gets illuminated by repeated time jumping into the past. At first, this constant shifting in time may confuse the viewer, but fortunately Cheung's different hair color soon serves as an important point of orientation.
There are no flashy tricks or similar stuff in "On the Edge". This is a straight-forward and simple drama, and if handled with a little bit more care this easily could have become the movie's true strength. But the director fails, as Yau oftentimes seems to have the same problem with his movies. What's left is an interesting idea concerning Harry's character, who's wandering a path between black and white, whereas he loses more and more of his certainty who he really is. One interesting thing that comes to mind is a murder, that Harry hides from his superior. Mini B becomes a cripple when he tries to protect Harry, whereupon he finishes off the perpetrator. Here we get to know Harry's inner struggle, which is portrayed nicely and in a subtle manner, as the viewer doesn't hold his silence about this murder case against him, even though the murdering itself was quite bloody and brutal.

Apart from a nice car chasing scene towards the end, there isn't much action to be found in this film. "On the Edge" is a drama, that has a clever main plot, which, however, is presented too cold. Besides, the anti-climax is somewhat frustrating. What the drama's message is, is quite simple as it isn't conveyed very suble, which the last title card is proof of. Being an undercover cop isn't easy and puts you in the midst of two different worlds. This, naturally, has to cause an identity crisis, eventually, which is portrayed nicely by Harry's character and his numerous scenes with his former friends and his new colleagues. What the movie really would have needed is more action and thrill. At least the filmmakers could have avoided the repeated slow-downs of the pacing.
"On the Edge" is a neat movie, which surely has a certain special something to it, but fails to deliver what it promises on too many occassions. Still, when you take a look at the movies coming out of Hong Kong nowadays you really must be thankful to Yau, that he at least tries to deliver profound HK-cinema. For this sole fact alone the movie deserves to be recommended. However, the little masterpiece many film critics see in this movie, somehow eluded me.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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