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Detective, The (2007)
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by Jay Seaver

"Bangkok noir."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: The funny thing about most memorable film noir detective movies is that they don't actually involve a lot of detection - the private investigator just sort of ping-pongs from one strange situation to another, often winding up in a spot where the whole mess seems contradictory. Why should Oxide Pang mess with tradition?

His Tam (Aaron Kwok) is a P.I. working out of Bangkok's Chinatown, and not a great one. One day, Lung the butcher (Shing Fui-On) knocks on his door, saying that some girl is following him, trying to kill him. Tam looks at the picture, surmises that there's no way this pretty girl has much interest in Lung, and figures it's about stalking by proxy. He's sending Lung home when Lung drops a large wad of bills on the table. Well, it can't hurt to look...

Famous last words, of course - a lead on her apartment brings Tam face-to-face with a dead body, and it won't be the last. Longtime friend Inspector Chak (Liu Kai-Chi) will be inclined to call Tam the angel of death by the time it's over.

It's perhaps a bit unfair to say that Tam doesn't do a whole lot in the way of detection and investigation - he does spend a fair amount of time gathering information, and he does spend much of the second half of the film pondering his big blackboard with facts written on it. Still, there's something a little arbitrary about his path over the course of the movie: One lead calls him more or less unsolicited; an attempt is made on his life when he might reasonably be expected to just let the case go. The actual nuts and bolts of a story like this aren't really that important, after all. We're observing Tam and his need to find people, borne out of his parents going missing at an early age, along with how Chak becomes exasperated with his friend but also can't help supporting him.

That's why, performance-wise, the rest of the cast can remain ciphers as long as Kwok and Liu pull their end. Kwok is pretty entertaining; rather than the cynical, seen-it-all private eye, he plays Tam as still somewhat youthful and innocent. He's excited about the conspiracy he thinks he's uncovering even though others see a suicide and/or a random killing, and though he's a low-rent P.I., he never comes across as stupid or a misunderstood genius. He's also pleasantly squeamish when it comes time to deal with dead bodies and nervous around femmes fatales. Liu hits all the right notes as the put-upon friend, certain there's nothing to the case but also certain that kicking bees' nests is a good way for Tam to get in all sorts of trouble.

Many of the Pang Brothers' recent films - both together and as individuals - have been viewed as disappointments, but even when the story hasn't been up to snuff, they have always managed to do impressive things visually. Oxide Pang keeps that streak alive, combining a shadowy noir atmosphere with bright highlights. He's also got a way of making attempts on Tam's life seem to jump out and be even more shocking than normal; they jump out of nowhere and are over almost before they start. He even comes up with a clever visual for waking from a dream. Also noteworthy is the funky soundtrack from Jadet Chawang and Payont Permsith, which fits perfectly with the seventies-inspired titles and does a nice job of moving the movie along.

There's more that can be said about this movie, but getting into the details of the mystery story would take a lot of doing only to be spoilers and basically irrelevant. "The Detective" is a pretty enjoyable watch, covering the basics better than many movies of its ilk.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17593&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/18/08 11:19:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 25-Mar-2008

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Oxide Pang Chun

Written by
  Oxide Pang Chun
  Thomas Pang

Cast
  Aaron Kwok
  Liu Kai Chi
  Kenny Wong
  Lau Siu Ming
  Lai Yiu Cheung



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