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Character-driven crime drama, with superb performances
COP ON A MISSION (Zhi Fa Fan Fa)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Sound format: Mono
An undercover cop (Daniel Wu) rises through the ranks of a powerful Triad gang and is corrupted by delusions of grandeur.
Taking the director's chair for only the third time in his career, former editor Marco Mak (ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, THE STORM RIDERS, etc.) overcomes the drawbacks of limited funding to make a powerful statement about the corruptive nature of Absolute Power and the consequences of poverty on a divided heart. Though the budget allows for only a handful of major set-pieces (choreographed by action director Ma Yuk-sing), the plot is buoyed by skillful editing and a busy narrative, and is further energized by three standout performances: Wu is superb as the undercover cop whose worldview is transformed by the gangster lifestyle (leading to a number of surprising plot twists), while veteran entertainer Eric Tsang makes a virtue of restraint as the murderous Triad leader - rendered impotent following a bloody gang battle - who takes Wu under his wing. Suki Kwan plays Tsang's beautiful wife, torn between loyalty to her beloved husband and the earthier charms of Wu's carnal embrace.
There's a deliberate emphasis on Wu's physical beauty during the film's early stages, though the loving attention paid to his naked torso (alongside a couple of nude shower scenes) serves a dual purpose: To promote Wu as a rising star in the HK movie firmament, and to reinforce the audience's rapport with a sympathetic character, which makes his slow descent into immorality and murder all the more disturbing. Mak references other films with relish (SUNSET BLVD. and THE UNTOUCHABLES are two of the most obvious), and he manages to combine a character-driven storyline with stylish visuals (excellent work by cinematographer Tony Miu), despite the limitations imposed by a lack of financial resources. Also starring David Lee (DEVIL FACE, ANGEL HEART) as a fellow cop and one of Wu's closest friends, Karel Wong (THE JAIL OF NO RETURN) as a psychopathic gang leader whose violent behavior prompts Wu's slide into debasement, and Lam Suet as a wannabe Triad member who bears the brunt of Wu's dishonorable conduct. Tense, dramatic, and emotionally satisfying, COP ON A MISSION is a fine addition to the HK crime genre.
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