Zhen han xing chou wen
Hong Kong, 1995
Review by Shelly Kraicer
This is a big, rich, exciting, slightly out-of-control movie that still leaves me unsettled. I'm not sure that it's a completely coherent whole, but that's all right: genre mixing in HK cinema has its own pleasures. Police Confidential (PC) is part psychological/political/erotic thriller, part police-action dazzler.
The first half hour is incredible: plot twists pile up so fast that they barely have time to register: there's a manic restlessness to the pacing that's kind of disturbing, and kind of exhilarating. Unfortunately, the accumulated tension of a go-for-broke thriller is dispelled by a late turn to courtroom drama (legislative committee hearing, in this case, but structurally the same sort of thing). I don't know why HK filmmakers are so fond of this sort of scene: it's almost always static, cliche-ridden, an anti-kinetic let-down after so much built up energy. And PC has some other problems: it can swing into scenes of cheesey melodrama whose necessity escapes me.
Much of the exhilarating energy comes from a kind of kinetic cinematography and editing that brings to mind Tsui Hark. PC's narrative style may owe something to recent Wong Kar-Wai: the story loops back on itself, and Officer Lui's (Simon Yam) self-conscious narration tries to bind it all together.
But PC's politics are pure Kirk Wong. And this troubles me. Rock and Roll Cop, Crime Story and Organized Crime and Triad Bureau all seem to be about letting police be (freely, violently) police. His movies have an utterly cynical view of political institutions: the HK Legislative Council here seems hopelessly corrupted, seeking power instead of justice. In PC, everything is compromised; everyone is corrupted. The HK police themselves are divided. The ICAC, lead by a crooked Alex Chiang (Zhang Fengyi), is deeply implicated in the very illegality it is supposed to be fighting. Officer Lui is a clean cop, but his own unrestrained sexual life seems to have caused the break up of his family.
At its centre, the movie stages its showdown between Lui and Chiang (not, as you would expect, near the end). This brilliant fight sequence is surreal, shot in bright, primary colours, like a dream. I think that it's possible to read this scene as a struggle within Lui's own unconscious, between the evil that Chiang represents and Lui's sense of virtue. Chiang provisionally triumphs, and goes on to torture Lui (read as inner torment, Lui's guilt). Images of this scene recur to haunt Lui, most memorably in the spectacular montage of his seduction of Judy (his witness) late in the film.
In the face of this kind of (inner and outer) world out of control, Kirk Wong's films conceal a virtually libidinal investment in total surveillance (PC celebrates the entire range, from Lui's productive peeping-Tom-ism tothe most massive high-tech police surveillance operation I've yet seen on film) and total control (the necessity of violently reconstructing order in a corrupted and anarchic world). PC doesn't go nearly as far as Rock and Roll Cop (which seems actually to yearn for the mainland's takeover in 1997). And PC's complexity complicates its politics, for the better. Yam's character is fighting for something, here: ostensibly the old standards of honesty and loyalty. But what might really be at stake for Lui is something much more interesting: the possibility of sustaining an integrated idea of who he is in an incoherent, dis -integrating world.
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