Stephanie CheJosie HoMark ChengGigi Lai
For Bad Boys Only
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Wai Man Yip
Writer: Manfred Wong
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese [occasionally], English [even more occasionally]
Country: Hong Kong
Actor: Ekin Cheng, Louis Koo, Qi Shu, Kristy Yang, Mark Cheng, Jerry Lamb, Kelly Lin, Sau Leung 'Blacky' Ko, Chi Hung Ng, Josie Ho, Gigi Lai, Anya, Stephanie Che, Vincent Kok, Lan Law
Format: 105 minutes
Website category: Asian
Review date: 13 June 2012
I liked about half of it. However the other half I hated, thanks to annoying heroes who needed beating to death with baseball bats. I knew true horror when I looked at the clock after 45 minutes and saw that I still had an hour to go.
It recovered, fortunately. The heroes turn into human beings. However every so often the film keeps doing action movie stuff, which unfortunately means an action finale that tramples over the good stuff they'd been doing and is incoherent even by action movie standards.
The story involves the Bad Boys Detective Agency, whose staff are called King, Queen and Jack. Other characters in the movie are called Eleven, Angel and Shadow. Sigh. Anyway, King is played by Ekin Cheng, a Hong Kong actor and Cantopop singer who's also done some Japanese-language work. Paradoxically he could be argued to have done quite good work here, putting lots of energy and fun into his performance, but he still ends up being perhaps the most annoying hero of any film released that year. Probably. I'd have to think about that, but I think Cheng's going to take the gong here. I'm pretty sure no one else bugged me more. Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Seance also drove me nuts, for instance, but that's more Kurosawa's scripting rather than his protagonists.
To play devil's advocate here, it's brave to make your hero so eye-gougingly unlikeable and they give him a strong character arc later on as he grows and learns. Nevertheless the guy's a smug posing tosser who thinks he's James Bond and keeps using the Tarot card trick Roger Moore pulled on Jane Seymour in Live and Let Die. This is tiresome even the first time he tries it. We're introduced to him as he ruins a wedding and then grandstands in front of everyone, doing pop star poses as remote-controlled bombs go off and he pretends that he's causing these explosions by pointing his fingers. This makes him a tosser. However what in addition makes him Darwin Award stupid is the fact that in doing so, he's ignoring the getaway car waiting behind him and a couple of dozen armed soldiers who have no reason not to blow away the guy who's detonating bombs. Does Cheng care? He does not. Point, pose, wiggle... but THEY DON'T SHOOT HIM. This is criminal dereliction of duty and you'll want to step into the film and shoot Cheng yourself.
We later learn that Cheng's idea of a perfect girlfriend is to have ten on the go at once. "Wooing girls is like chewing gum. It tastes sweet at first, but soon it's tasteless." His solution: an endless lifestyle of girl-chasing!
So that's Ekin Cheng. The lesser cock is Jack, played by Louis Koo. He couldn't be mistaken for a psychopath. He has a girlfriend (Kelly Lin) who loves him, but he's also been hanging around Cheng too long and so he can't stop yammering on about the "perfect girl". This eventually gets him dumped for a reason so weird-sounding that you'll just assume Lin is an idiot, but shortly afterwards you'll be itching to drop Koo into a garbage crusher when Queen (Kristy Yang) tries to open her heart to him and Koo practically bites her head off. Why so aggressive? Piss right off. At least Cheng's character journey went from "unlikeable" to "vaguely sympathetic", not the other way around.
You can see how I was having problems. Ironically the film is rather good if you can ignore its two lead characters. The Bad Boys Detective Agency's cases are interesting and sometimes touching. They specialise in finding missing persons, usually people's first loves. There are some gentle moments, with even Cheng capable of apparent selflessness if you ignore the fact that he's thinking with his dick again. I liked the job where they help a grandfather, then later we get an intriguing set of coincidences and a triple role for Qi Shu. There's good stuff here, underneath. That would be the half of the film I liked. People get reunited with those they'd loved and lost, which is sometimes heartwarming and sometimes unsentimental and bittersweet, providing strong acting opportunities for Qi Shu. There's a human story here. It's about love, both when you're looking for it and then years later when you're trying to capture it again. Our two mega-cocks both confront their own natures and overcome them, which is a story sufficiently worth telling that it arguably justifies their existence in the first place.
It's also strong from a female perspective. Cheng and Koo want shooting, but Kristy Yang, Kelly Lin, Qi Shu (three times over) and others all get subtle, heartfelt material to play and do well with it. I was impressed. Shu is also so strong in her triple role that I didn't realise they were all the same actress. Apparently there are those who say she has a "manic" acting style, but based on this film I'd say she's a vivid, impressive actress who deserves all the acting awards she's won, including two Golden Horse Awards. (Those are sometimes called the Asian Oscars.)
There are subtleties even in her appearance, incidentally. Look at that ugly red top she's wearing when she first meets Cheng. It looks like a bin bag, doesn't it? That has resonances, being neither the first nor the last time she'll wear plastic sheeting here. Even her face seems to mutate between her different roles, with her unique beauty as Eleven becoming strange and almost alien, with apparently collagen-enhanced lips. When she's someone else, though, no.
So we've got annoying action heroes, but also thoughtful, sensitive character drama. This is schizophrenic. Every so often the action heroes even get action scenes, with Ekin Cheng wearing a jacket with no shirt all the time and having James Bond gadgets (a Spider-Man line-shooter). These at least aren't annoying, but they add nothing at all and feel like a Hong Kong hiccup, as if martial arts fight scenes had jumped into the movie all by themselves while the editor wasn't looking.
Then there's the finale. Mark Cheng has been doing illegal genetic things that he's now about to blow up and our heroes want to stop him, which presumably makes him the villain. I didn't get it. Why was he doing this? What was his motive? If he'd made these revolutionary breathroughs, why wasn't he transforming world science and making billions from his discoveries instead of doing something completely pointless and unprofitable in a warehouse somewhere and then blowing it all up? Why does A start shooting B? Why does heroic C deliberately spin around so that B will catch a fatal bullet instead of him? I realise that action finales are almost by definition mindless, but this one is doubly frustrating because the film until now had been showing a great deal of intelligence and yet it ends in a mess that would seem to have been written and shot in a lunch hour.
The film's in Cantonese, but also has Mandarin, English and even occasionally some Japanese dialogue. Mark Cheng's character is called Taro Sakamoto and his Japanese is so natural that I was surprised near the end when he used Chinese. Apparently he was married to a Japanese actress and fellow martial artist, Yukari Oshima, for four years in the early 1990s.
I laughed when Japanese shoppers called one of our heroes a hentai, by the way.
This film is a car wreck and almost everyone hates it. What's more, they're right. I'd have derived pleasure from seeing its heroes' faces getting smashed in with baseball bats. However at the same time it's also an excellent, subtle story about love and people's sometimes broken reactions to it. "With my ugly face." That half of the film I really liked. It's just a shame the stuff I didn't like was shoving bamboo shoots under my fingernails... and there's other annoying stuff I haven't mentioned, such as that fat guy's cameo on the plane. Hong Kong Comedy (TM) strikes again. Oh, and technically speaking I'm pretty sure Ekin Cheng was getting romantically involved with a two-year-old. Sometimes this movie is intelligent, but at other times it's as if its brain had abdicated.
I won't tell you not to watch this film. In certain ways I admire it. It's brave. However it's also sloppy, inconsistent in tone and begging to be loathed.