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Original Title:
C+ jing taam

Hong Kong 2007

Thriller, Mystery

Oxide Pang

Aaron Kwok
Liu Kai-Chi
Shing Fui-On
Wong Tak-bun
Seung Tin-Ngoh
Natthasinee Pinyopiyavid
Kuk Jo
Chaiyapong Settagam
Lau Siu-Ming
Siu Suet
Lai Yiu-Cheung

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The Detective

Story: Tam (Aaron Kwok) is an unsuccessful private eye, who is just somehow trying to make ends meet. One day a guy, who he had talked to at a bar on several occasions, enters his office and asks Tam for help. He tells the private detective that a woman named Sum is following him wherever he goes, and that Tam must find her. He pays in advance. And Tam is just happy that he finally has a job.
The private eye immediately goes on a search for Sum, his only clue being a photo of the girl. During his investigation he finds out where the photo has been taken. The owner of a Mahjong-shop can give him some more information, and therefore he gets the address of Ming, a guy who often played Mahjong with Sum. However, when Tam arrives at Ming's appartment he finds him dead hanging from the ceiling.
The police steps in after this incident, and leading officer Chak (Liu Kai-Chi) thinks of this case as common suicide. Tam and Chak know each other since their childhood days, which is why Tam is allowed to copy some photos from Ming's cell phone. Ming had numerous girlfriends, and during his further investigation the private detective can also track down other individuals that have played with Sum at a mahjong table. Strangely, every one of the suspects dies on Tam's arrival. Detective Chak has his hands full because of the sudden deaths and he really isn't happy about the fact that Tam can always be found at the crime scene. Nevertheless, contrary to Tam, he still doesn't think that this is a serial murder case. However, Tam has to realize that his investigation becomes more and more life-threatening...

Review: The Pang Brothers really made quite a name for themselves in the horror genre with their movie "The Eye". Even before that, they could catch the attention of critics with their movie "Bangkok Dangerous". These past few years, the Pang Brothers took on some solo projects, but they didn't have much success. In fact, during the last few years the movie output of the two was that bad, qualitywise, that I intentionally avoided some of their works, because of their tendency of generally provoking bad reviews. The visually stunning "Re-cycle" excluded, we already could see in "Diary", that the duo might still have a great sense for gloomy and eye-catching cinematography, but that their pot of ideas concerning gripping stories is pretty much exhausted. This is supposed to change with "The Detective", a thriller that wants to do without any horror. Or maybe not? It's very welcome that the Pang Brothers try something new, but in the end you really shouldn't get your hopes too high or make any illusions about it. In their newest film the mystery factor still remains apparent, and especially towards the end, the movie drifts back into well-known Pang Brothers waters.

Nevertheless, what does that mean concerning "The Detecive" in terms of quality? First of all, I have to point out, that the film actually isn't a horror flick. There are only some elements that are borrowed from that genre, especially towards the end, as already stated. Yet, first off, the movie unfolds as your typical private detective story.
Tam could have become a policeman, if it weren't for his lacking smartness. He is oftentimes lead by his instincts, and doesn't really take into account the evidence he finds along the way - at least according to his friend Chak. However, we can't fully believe that, since Tam's investigation and his observations aren't as stupid as Chak maybe wants to make us believe. It's just that Tam hasn't much self-confidence, as he still couldn't find his parents that just vanished from the face of this earth when he was a little child. Nonetheless, that's also the reason why Tam's ambition gets fueled with the current case, since he wants to prove - most of all to himself - that he has what it takes to be a detective.

Unfortunately, there really could have been done some more work on the script concerning the characters. Tam's background story and the disappearance of his parents are nice in its core, but the film just doesn't put these elements to any real use. On the contrary. When the case is finally solved, the Pang Brothers suddenly realize that they can also link the case with Tam's background story. There is no real coherence, and the way the side story is connected to the rest of the film, literally last minute style, feels absolutely forced.
Apart from that it really would have helped to give Tam some rough edges or some peculiarities. Still, despite all that, I really have to applaude Aaron Kwok ("Storm Riders", "Divergence") for his work. In "After this our Exile" he already showed that he is actually capable of handling a dramatic role. In "The Detective" there is even an improvement to be seen. Who would have thought, but you really can accept Kwok as a true actor these days!

Aaron Kwok is supported by Liu Kai-Chi ("SPL", "New Police Story"), who manages to bestow that special something on his role. He may always get steamed up about Tam and his speculative assumptions, but he also keeps his friend out of the worst of trouble with the police. And he also provides him with information every now and then. Still, he also makes clear where Tam's limits are and where the case becomes the police's.
Tam's investigation is quite interesting at the beginning, but it soon becomes rather repetitive. He collects evidence, tracks down suspects, who just happen to kill themselves in some way at that very moment Tam arrives, and he takes photos of the crime scenes. Of course, he shoots them with his camera/cell phone of a famous cell phone brand that starts with the letter "N". Isn't product placement a great thing...
Anyway, as already said, the investigation soon becomes tedious, until at some point Tam's life is suddenly at risk, which makes things a little bit more captivating. Nevertheless, all in all the story is rather disappointing, as it is too trivial in its core, after you have seen through the relationships between the different individuals involved in the plot.

The movie's strength lies within the cinematography, of course. Being shot in Thailand, the pictures all look gritty/dirty and the run-down interior rooms underline this impression. Still, that's also what gives something beautiful to these pictures. As not to be expected otherwise, there is also some very nicely executed camera work and editing. One particular scene that stands out is when the camera three-dimensionally zooms into a photo. The special effects are very well done and the imaginativeness of the director once again is something to be admired. The slightly erotic scene between Aaron Kwok and Kuk Jo is also a memorable moment. This scene becomes so special because of fast and inventive cuts.

Furthermore, there are some very effective shocking moments, e.g. when Tam is almost struck dead by a fridge, that seems to fall out of the sky. Moreover, the Pang Brothers once again implement a few surreal pictures into their film, which somehow feel disturbing, e.g. when an elephant is hit by a car. All this makes this movie almost a memorable one. However, unfortunately, the film is a disappointing experience when it comes to the story, and with its "twist" it provides old formulaic stuff, which absolutely can surprise no one anymore, and which can also be foreseen miles in advance. What a pity, because with flaws like this it just doesn't deserve a recommendation. Apart from its pictures "The Detective" is a mediocre movie, of which we hoped that it may at least come up with a reconciling ending. But this hope is in vain. For the viewer this becomes a frustrating experience and for the Pang Brothers this film is merely a small excercise in style without any profoundness.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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