MAD DETECTIVE is from Johnnie To's production outfit; Milky Way Image, the production company responsible for such acclaimed Hong Kong hits such as "Exiled". Milky Way has given new life to Hong Kong Cinema and perhaps maintaining the country's image as a reputable leader in the crime genre. This latest offering from the creative team of Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai still has the usual coolness, it mixes crime thrills and detective work, familiar motifs and themes, but somehow it feels more cryptic and enigmatic than the usual. The film definitely feels a lot more like a psychological detective thriller than anything else.
A missing police pistol is connected to a series of recent heists and murders. Its owner Wong (Lee Kwok Lun) vanished after pursuing suspects in the bushes. His partner Chi-Wai (Lam Ka Tung) miraculously returned unscathed.
Inspector HO (Andy On) the officer in charge, seeks assistance from his former mentor; Bun (Lau Ching Wan), who had once been recognized as a gifted criminal profiler until he became judged insane some years ago. He has the uncanny ability to see into a person's inner personality, where the subconscious desires and emotions are laid bare. After the first contact with Chi-Wai, Bun concludes that Chi-Wai is the murderer. What began as a quest for answers has now taken a schizophrenic turn where truth and lies, reality and delusions intertwine....
If you saw the film "Running on Karma", you have a good idea on how this exercise in Buddhist indulgence plays out. The film takes the very cryptic and odd premise of "seeing a person's inner personality" to a very creative style. The film's premise is very ambitious and effective. An eccentric detective, who can see the emotions and inner desires of a person; to his associates, Bun appears quite insane. Bun uses this uncanny ability to explore complex emotions in solving a crime. True, "Mad Detective" is about cops and the investigation of crimes, but the complexity of its plot is just who these people are and what they are about to do. It was very different and creative the way the director expressed the inner personalities within one person. Viewers have to pay special attention to its proceedings as the camera's perspective shifts from time to time, a person will "morph" into someone else as a representation of that character's hidden personality. This style will have to be embraced by the audience, as the very unusual visual manipulation may sometimes show 7 people walking along the sidewalk in place of one person, 7 folks crammed in one compact car instead of one, a woman standing to urinate, etc. The switching characters and perspectives will encourage the viewer to stay sharp, it made me think and analyze the sequences. Truth be told, the film made me work, and while I was definitely drawn to the film, some viewers may become a bit alienated and confused.
Thankfully, award-winning actor Lau Ching Wan plays the lead. No one can play a weird eccentric with dynamic charisma better than Lau. His weathered and exhausted appearance, very manic and strange behavior adds a lot of depth to his character; Bun. Lam Suet and Eddie Cheung makes appearances as Chi-Wai's different personalities, Kelly Lin plays Bun's wife. "Mad Detective" is so full of compelling and multi-dimensional characters, that at times, I felt a bit of character overload. These characters aren't very different from everyday folks, with inner voices nudging the person to either do right or wrong; with unexpected consequences that may also be damning and dangerous to others.
"Mad Detective" may be a bit different from the other films I'm used to by Johnnie To but one thing that still held his signature is its great storytelling. As usual, there is somewhat of a "shock ending" that is bereft in ultimate irony. The film can definitely form a connection with its viewers, its real-world and real-life execution is likely to strike a chord to many. The ending may cause some people to scratch their heads, but if you've been paying attention during its entirety, it does make perfect sense. The twist and turns may prove a bit maddening but pseudo-intellectuals will no doubt have a field day trying to interpret its meaning.
Johnnie To's "Mad Detective" will no doubt become a favorite among his fans, who are used to the deadpan humor, crazy irony, plot arches, and a bit of misogyny. The film is definitely to a selected, intended audience as it may prove a tougher sell to people who like to be spoon-fed the details and uninitiated to this style. Still, the content and its meaning did prove very intoxicating and compelling to me. I may not be able to fully explain why I enjoyed this film and some details may seem a bit confusing, but my inner personality (who is The Mighty Thor LOL) who is flailing his arms says I like this film a lot!