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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 22.22%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 11.11%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Breaking News
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by Jay Seaver

"Forget the satire angle, and just enjoy the crime."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: The difference between "Breaking News" and many other siege movies is its use of the media. Typically, the role of the press in a story about a standoff is to get in the cops' way, revealing crucial information to the villains or otherwise presenting an obstacle for the characters to work around. Here, we see the police actively working to manipulate the press, with disquieting success. It's an intriguing idea for a movie, but ultimately "Breaking News" uses it as a sidelight, an interesting subplot to a rather familiar hostage drama. Fortunately, it's a well-made, exciting example of that subgenre.

As the movie opens, we're given a quick look at two of our drama's key players. Yuan (Richie Ren) and his crew are working a heist, not aware that Inspector Cheung (Nick Cheung) and his squad are tailing them. Their plan goes south when they are stopped by a pair of traffic cops, a situation that rapidly devolves into a shoot-out that leaves two dead, and becomes a public relations nightmare when the media shows up and captures not only the running gunfight, but continuously replays the embarassing image of one officer holding up his hands, begging the bandits not to shoot. As the incident leads the people of Hong Kong to start distrusting their law-enforcement, despite statistics showing it to be one of the world's safest cities, Inspector Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen) proposes an audacious response - when the gang resurfaces, the HKPD should mount an attack that is not only overwhelming in scale - a thousand uniformed officers - but which she will meticulously stage-manage so that the secondary goal of presenting a friendly, trustworthy and effective face for the Department is given almost as much importance as the first. She won't have to wait long, as Cheung quickly tracks Yuan down. What she doesn't expect is that Yuan proves to be pretty media-savvy himself, or that the building where he hides out and takes a family hostage contains a second group of criminals - this one a team of assassins.

Johnny To is one of the top Hong Kong action directors not to have dabbled in Hollywood over the past decade, and it's our loss. The content of Breaking News will remind American audiences of pre-Hollywood John Woo, with its hotheaded cops, smooth crooks, and hails of gunfire. It's not quite the same style, though - his gunplay isn't as balletic as John Woo's, and neither does the script by Chan Hing-Kai and Yip Tin-Shing aspire to quite the same operatic characterization. A more apt description might be a Chinese Michael Mann or John Frankenheimer, with an eye toward procedural and local detail, and he makes his cinematographers and editors work hard, with a number of long tracking shots and split screens.

Despite the director flashily making use of every tool in his arsenal, the performances are thoroughly grounded. To has his cast build their characters out of quick comments and small actions rather than pained looks or speeches. This gets us some interesting gradations, with both Rebecca and Cheung coming off as driven, but Rebecca being more so; she can be described as ruthless. It's the crooks who get the brief humanizing moments, as Yuan and the hitman he meets discover they have more in common than simply being criminals; they find cooking soothing, and joke about how each had considered retiring from crime and opening a restaurant. It doesn't make them likable - Yuan immediately returns to taunting Rebecca over his hostages' webcam - but it makes them interesting and fleshed-out. The cast is solid, especially among the leads. Some of the performances by the actors playing the family being held hostage are a bit on the rough side, but they're funnier than perhaps they should be in this situation.

The filmmakers supply a constant stream of action, but in quick enough bursts that it doesn't become fatiguing, and setting it up so that there's always tension going. He also likes to stage the action in public areas; a scene where the villains set off a series of bombs in an apartment building is even more intense because the frame contains a number of spectators and television cameras. The result is a tense action machine, with multiple jaw-dropping set pieces crammed into a lean ninety minutes of runtime.

It's not the satire it aspires to be, but it is a white knuckler of a crime movie. Lots of cop 'n robber movies come out every year, some with aspirations to be more. This one is executed a lot better than most, so if you like the crime, you'll find a great deal to enjoy about this.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10548&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/18/05 00:27:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/16/05 smeerkat Worthwhile film by Johnnie To 4 stars
7/03/05 Dann Entertainment is what it is all about and that is what it is. 4 stars
11/01/04 Elizabeth Continuous bullet action cannot hide a silly plot and shrill leading lady. 2 stars
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  27-Jan-2006 (NR)
  DVD: 07-Mar-2006



Directed by
  Johnny To

Written by
  Chan Hing-Kai
  Tin-Shing Yip

  Kelly Chen
  Nick Cheung
  Siu-Fai Cheung
  Shiu Hung Hui
  Suet Lam
  Richie Ren

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