A terse series of events emanates from a team of tenacious hijackers and the cops charged with following their trail.
Cold War (Hon zin) starts with a bang, a screech and a siren. A bomb explodes in a busy mall, a car zooms through the city streets, and a police van speeds in quick pursuit. In a tale that is quick to proclaim: ‘This story is not based on any real-life cases,’ the drama echoes from the opening incident. In this crime thriller from debutant writer/director team, Sunny Luk and Longman Leung, a terse series of events emanates from a team of tenacious hijackers and the cops charged with following their trail.
Immersed in the aftermath of an astutely orchestrated attack that sees five officers kidnapped, the Hong Kong police force must wage a rescue mission – as adorned with the operation code of the film’s title. The station’s opposing operations and management units stare each other down from the same side of the of the law-and-order divide, with deputy commissioners M.B. Waise Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai, Tai Chi Hero) and Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok, Conspirators) open about their rivalry. Their enemy is gifted with insider knowledge, and is greedy for a significant ransom. Competition between the deputies is heightened by the lure of promotion to a plum senior role – the nation’s police commissioner – as much as the happy resolution of the hostage situation.
This may be just their first feature outing - Luk better known as a second unit director (The Thieves, Split Second Murders) and Leung as an art director (The Haunted School, Connected) - however, Cold War shows the shine and sparkle of more seasoned genre efforts. The film also demonstrates its aspirations, assembling developments and scenes worthy of its apparent influences. A puzzle begs to be pieced together; car crashes and shoot-outs spark further action; dialogue drips with commentary on the politics of its Hong Kong setting.
Alas, the scribes and helmers fill their feature so full of effort – and information, and attempted mystery – that an imbalance is always evident, scenes either trying to convey too much as exchanges are laced with acclaim for its locale, or threatened with meaning too little due to pointed repetition. An overtly suspenseful score by Peter Kam (Out of Inferno) maintains the pace, just as stylish cinematography by Jason Kwan (The Last Tycoon) and Kenny Tse (Badges of Fury) keeps the imagery polished. But the sense that the film is striving but languishing is inescapable.
So it is that Cold War remains heavily – and rightfully – reliant upon its excellent leads as the narrative becomes steeped in corruption and scandal. Despite the adversarial nature of their characters, commonality is evident in their performances, both scowling and simmering with intensity. Tony Leung Ka Fai stays resolute and restrained, and Aaron Kwok distant and determined, the pair painted and portrayed as two sides of the same coin. In a friendly throwback to the Infernal Affairs series so obviously emulated, an appearance by Andy Lau (A Simple Life) adds further weight, but the film is at its best when its leads go head to head.
Indeed, viewed as a power play between careful characters, the nine-time winner at the 2013 Hong Kong Film Awards retains interest and intrigue, if not depth, reaching beyond its by-the-numbers template to entertain and engage at an acceptable standard. Yet, though effective, the surrounding twists and set-pieces aren’t always congruent. As Cold War lurches between the many components of its overstuffed content, more isn’t always less, with the end result frequently burdened by the air distraction.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Cold War (Hon zin)
Directors: Sunny Luk and Longman Leung
Hong Kong, 2012, 102 mins
Golden Koala Chinese Film Festival
Melbourne: 31 January – 5 February
Sydney: 8 – 10 February
Brisbane: 10 – 12 February