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The success of the Infernal Affairs series, and high profile projects like Confession of Pain would have made Felix Chong and Alan Mak household names in the Hong Kong crime thriller genre. Their latest offering with Lady Cop and Papa Crook not only comes with a somewhat cheesy title (in English at least), but gone are the familiar gloom and doom that draped their more famous films as well.
I guess it's always a big step to try and break out of your own shadow. This time round the duo played it quite straight with their story and direction, opting for simplicity and a series of light humour. But even then, this film got entrenched with its fair share of controversy before its recent release, especially since it's got to do with the trimming of its run time allegedly to have the whole deal sweetened for the Mainland Chinese market. which had pushed back its release date from sometime mid 2008, to now.
You know, the same requirement about not having the righteous being put in bad light, especially if they're of honourable professions like the police. With Infernal Affairs, we know what hapened with the Andy Lau character that resulted in two different endings for different markets (Singapore unfortunately got the cop-out Chinese version because of our Speak Mandarin Campaign). Here, some six minutes got shaved, and I would suspect that it would have involved the second last scene of the film that resulted in a inexplicable fade-to-black, which could've involved some debatable who-shot-first kinda Han Solo predicament, and of course the very hurried way the film decided to wrap everything up.
But I digress, and what could have happened in those six minutes was just my speculation which would be debunked should there be a release of the actual cut on DVD. In the past, the Chong-Mak partnership had brought on some memorable leading characters, almost all of whom are male, with themes like camaraderie and potential brotherhood forged should the protagonists not be on opposite sides of the law. Here, they throw a spanner in the works by having Hong Kong's Canto-pop queen Sammi Cheng flesh out one of the leads as Maureen Szetoh, an incredibly sassy female cop whom while is professional in her job, faces personal love life problems with her artist boyfriend of 10 years, and the ticking of her biological clock.
Again having their lead characters on different sides of the law, her opposite number is played by Eason Chan, whose John Fok is a crime kingpin dealing in the illegal oil business traversing both Hong Kong and China. A transshipment of their goods went awry with the Chinese law enforcers on their tail, and this leads to bad debt, unhappy underlings, and worse, a kidnapping of his son in which the ransom is some cool 80 million dollars. In comes Maureen and her gang of Hong Kong police much against his wishes to assist in the cracking of the kidnapping case, which of course is a perfect stage set for some really sticky and sensitive encounters between crooks and cops.
It is this tension between both sides that you could come to appreciate what both Felix Chong and Alan Mak were after. After all, how do you assist the cops in investigations if not to reveal who your enemies and friends are, and what more, to expose details of your illegal operations, laying everything down bare for the police to scrutinize? Other shades of brilliance also include how the police could be the largest "gangsters" around given their sheer manpower size and ability to work within the legal framework, though there are moments where the Fok's triad buddies could go around bureaucratic red tape in order to get things done. I sensed some dumbing down in the latter during the movie, which could have irked the Chinese censors, and effected some changes to the story.
Attempts to humanize the characters were not spared, especially with a host of characters going about attending to their personal affairs in the midst of a high profile kidnapping case. And here's where the unexpected fun is too, with some sprinkling of comedy which I thought was a welcome departure from what could have been the usual deadpan, serious approach. With a Chong-Mak production, Chapman To is never far behind in a supporting role, and Eye In The Sky's Kate Tsui is still looking for a lead role given her cinematic outings to date after the said Yau Nai-Hoi helmed movie, has been supporting ones only.
I would imagine the potential that Lady Cop and Papa Crook could have achieved if not for the forced re-writes to garner a slice from a larger pie, and it's still an enjoyable film once you recognize the effort put in by the writer-directors. Now to wait for the announcement that the DVD version would be the unadulterated one.
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