When an ambulatory TV news unit live broadcasts the embarrassing defeat of a police battalion by five bank robbers in a ballistic showdown, the credibility of the police force drops to a ...
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Three people - a criminal, a bank officer and a cop - end up in a catastrophic situation in the midst of a global economical crisis and are forced to betray any morals and principles to solve their financial problems.
Police inspector and excellent hostage negotiator Ho Sheung-Sang finds himself in over his head when he is pulled into a 72 hour game by a cancer suffering criminal out for vengeance on Hong Kong's organized crime Syndicates.
When an ambulatory TV news unit live broadcasts the embarrassing defeat of a police battalion by five bank robbers in a ballistic showdown, the credibility of the police force drops to a nadir. While on a separate investigation in a run-down building, detective Cheung discovers the hideout of the robbers. Cheung and his men have also entered the building, getting ready to take their foes out any minute. Meanwhile, in order to beat the media at its own game, Inspector Rebecca decides to turn the stakeout into a breaking news show. Written by
Thrilling Cinematography, Editing and Mordant Wit of Very Urban Crime War
"Breaking News (Dai si gein)" is one of the most urban crime thrillers I've ever seen, using the density and verticality of a modern city as an intense frame for the fast-paced action.
Hong Kong here seems to have visually become like the futuristic cities with satellite cameras of "Blade Runner" and "Code 46," with almost all the action taking place with 360 degree views of narrow streets, crowded plazas, dark hallways and elevator shafts. There's a door-to-door attack in a corridor that throws down the now classic scene from "Oldboy" as so much balletic nonsense compared to this gritty but very beautiful realism, with cinematography by Siu-keung Cheng.
Director Johnny To grabs our attention in the enthralling opening scene of a shoot-out on a Hong Kong street. With almost no dialog we can figure out that this is a stake-out going horribly wrong. While the scene dizzyingly must have been shot on a cherry-picker zooming up and down and around as if we are on on external elevator or hanging from windows with a zoom telephoto lens, the angles are always important as the camera swoops and narrows and broadens our view from shooter to victim to shooter to victim as we swivel to where the shots are heard. I felt like I was in the antenna of the aliens in "War of the Worlds." The visuals are always directly related to the sounds, as edited by David M. Richardson.
Though I could only infer some of the internal politics within the police bureaucracy with the significance of some using English names and others traditional Chinese names amidst the various competing levels of authority, some of whom spoke stilted English, it was easy enough to pick up on the techie criminalist statistician vs. the on the ground street cop (a terrific Nick Cheung, who is like a thinking cop's Bruce Willis), let alone the difficulties a woman cop (Kelly Chen) has on the force. Her need to prove herself and her modern approach is a driving theme in the film and gives it considerable difference from a more conventional crime drama. She may be a neophyte at being in charge, but she is not an idiot.
There are parallel old school/new school, gangsters vs. assassins with different rules and technology that get caught up in the siege though I wasn't sure of the details of all their intersecting plots. The criminals are considerably more charismatic than all the cops except "Inspector Cheung", and have a sense of humor during an amusing hostage taking.
The instant, real-time new and old media attention in what is as much a door-to-door war between cops and criminals as in "Black Hawk Down" becomes part of their battle plans. It is as violent as a Paul Schrader or Martin Scorcese film, but has the mordant cynicism and humor of Billy Wilder, as the violence mocks the continued blandishments we see from the government officials about the falling crime rate.
While script writers Hing-Ka Chan and Tin-Shing Yip may have intended the high tech PR-controlling official to be a satire like "Wag the Dog" in having controlling the press be an essential component of controlling crime, it is just a very small step beyond the NYC Police Department techniques innovated under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. So it's a running gag that a kid with access to the Web can outwit their media manipulations. Survival seems to be based more on the results of the battle for public opinion.
I wasn't sure if the Hong Kong police force always looks like storm troopers or if the production design was making a political point. Clearly there was some point to the hostages being surrounded by commercial symbols of Western capitalism and culture.
The music by Ben Cheung and Chi Wing Chung supports the tension very effectively, including electronica and traditional instrumentation.
Unfortunately, the film as distributed in theaters in the U.S. had the worst subtitles I have ever seen. Not only are they filled with spelling and quizzical grammatical errors, as well as frequently white on white, they seem to have been translated using an antique English dictionary. The most egregious distraction is constantly calling these bloody murderers the charming appellation of "bandits" -- how about thugs or gangsters or criminals or crooks or bad asses, and so forth. Why didn't a native English speaker look over these subtitles? At least the credits were mostly bi-lingual.
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