It's a Hong Kong detective story with unusually strong characterisation for its main cop, Simon Lui. I liked it.
In a sense, it's almost misleading to call this a detective story. It's better imagined as a character piece in a loose detective story framework. Simon Lui both wrote the movie and stars in it as a cop who's married to his job first and his wife (Fennie Yuen) second. When the film begins, he's hearing the report of a private detective (Tat-Ming Cheung) he's paid to keep tabs on her. She's been unfaithful. However when we meet her shortly afterwards, she seems like a thoughtful, nice wife. She keeps cheerful, tries to be there for Lui and keeps up a one-sided conversation with him even though Lui has done nothing more than walked in, sat watching her in silence and then left again.
You wouldn't like to be the criminal he's questioning for information in the following scene, though. Lui tortures the guy. He uses pliers and everything. Later he pushes a suspect over a balcony. In addition he's the kind of cop who'll go without sleep for five days until his case is closed, whereupon he'll just start on the next one... and he makes his team do the same.
This is strong stuff. It's a miracle that I didn't hate the guy, but Lui's performance makes it work. Firstly, he has integrity. In a world of gangsters and bent cops, he's never going to stop looking for the truth. Secondly, he's a good man. Violent and obsessive, yes, but he's standing up for what's right and he cares about his wife. Their relationship is subtle, emotionally honest and the strongest thing in the film. However the most important factor is that Simon Lui is a really good actor and I loved watching him. I liked him in Killer
and I liked him here too. He has a subtle kind of expressiveness. He say more with no dialogue than almost anyone else I've seen, which Lui clearly knows given the taciturn nature of the role he's written for himself. This cop should be almost unlikable, but Lui makes him almost charming. I love his simplicity as an actor. Watch him in the scene where his wife walks out, for instance. He's doing almost nothing and he's wonderful.
I think I've become a fan. For what it's worth, Lui is an incredibly hard-working actor who can sometimes seem to have been in every Hong Kong film ever made, but on top of that in 2000-2004, he also wrote screenplays. He wrote eight, the last of which he also directed, then as far as I can tell gave it up and went back to the day job. He's particularly famous for doing lots of low-budget and/or horror films since the early nineties, e.g. the Troublesome Night series, and he starred in 27 movies in 1999 alone. Incredible.
His script here is pretty good, but unbalanced. It's a bit shapeless as a detective story and the resolution in particular needed work, but I don't think that matters because the movie's clearly just as much about character drama as the detective genre. The things you'll remember about it are the people and what they do, not anything to do with the plot.
Mind you, at one point I did wonder if the film was hinting that his wife was a prostitute and/or in the pay of the bad guy. What that private detective watched her doing looked a lot like what those prostitutes were doing in the Paramount Motel. However that possible indication ended up going nowhere, which to me felt a bit odd.
I have one elusive half-issue. It's not specifically with this film, but instead the Hong Kong films I've been watching lately in general. They feel slightly distant, somehow. I feel as if I'm merely watching the characters go past, not being invited to empathise. I'm wondering if it's the way the scenes are shot and edited, which might be a style well-suited to action movies but perhaps not so much to more dramatic fare. This has nothing to do with the writing or acting, mind you, which can be as good as anywhere and here has Simon Lui in it. Am I talking nonsense? Alternatively is it just the result of insanely high-speed production schedules, shooting entire movies in the time it takes to eat a hot dog, and I'd have had a different reaction had I been focusing on the higher end of Hong Kong cinema? I bet that's it, actually. However this isn't a big thing... instead it's merely a niggly feeling at the back of my mind, rather than anything that's been jumping out at me.
All the cast is good, with the slight exception of Lung Ti as the gangster, but there's a coincidence involving Pauline Chan. Here she's playing the murder victim and we only ever see her as a corpse or in flashback, but in real life she was an adult movie actress in the middle of a streak of self-destructive behaviour that ended with her suicide in 2002. By that point her acting career was already finished and this is one of her last movies. She doesn't get naked here, incidentally. This isn't a Category III.
This isn't a brilliant film. It looks like a potboiler genre flick, but what raises it above that is the story and acting. Think of it as apparently a low seven out of ten, except that paying attention will reveal that it's really a solid eight. Simon Lui did an impressive job, no matter that at the end his character is pulling his explanations from his arse. I don't adore it, but if you're on its wavelength (i.e. not focused exclusively on the detective story aspect) it's serious and satisfying.