Blind Detective 盲探 (2013) – Hong Kong
There’s a scene early on within the film when Johnston, played by Andy Lau, the titular blind detective, is making a sandwich within his shabby apartment. He’s got a handful of ingredients and an impatient appetite. Without wafting the scent of foods toward his strong investigative nose, not a one second-guess of his preparations’ outcome, he makes a hasty squish of the filling inside his slice of bread, takes a bite, and immediately puckers and spits in disgust. That’s not what he (or we) wanted. Yeah, that’s not it at all.
Playing to true Johnny To/Milky Way Image Company fashion, Blind Detective has an attention to detail, what with rich, fluorescent, kino flo lighting, dark cinematography, and design expertise. It’s the characters though or, perhaps, their connection to said design and supposedly funny dialogue that causes the confusion. Scenes are set up with such seriousness, of such quality, to then, almost out of uncertainty for success in landing your approval, turn for body gags and blind jokes. The child’s approach? From To? Oh no.
He has a careful, crimeful hand in his cinema, capable of turning situations grim or dark then fantastical and sheeny in genuinely gifted strokes of auteur genius- think Election (2005) and Drug War (2012). But I’m shocked here. His delving further into other genres, what with recent romantic comedies in Romancing in Thin Air (2012) and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011) I was a fan for, loving the newness.
But, the noticeable attention to heart, grace in progression for an end fit for his fans (& their time), that Hong Kong movie magic from those years ago, is missing. The moving images are remarkable, smart even; the scenes playing on character/object juxtapositions in a smooth associative kind of a way (like Drug War’s careful phone/camera/phone attention to surveillance cop’s work detail), clever and clean, colorful. But then it’s tone, the theme and elements on mood, they mutate into a collectively hot mess. That bounty of clever, artisan’s aesthetics sour with miscalculation in character development and premise. Oh no, again.
A gifted detective (prior cop– before the blindness), Johnston, the sure-fire leader/subscriber to Holmesian sleuthiness in this Milky Way Productions’ universe, meets Ho, Sammi Cheng, a wealthy-from-inheritance cop unable to hone skills like his. He is broke and clumsy; she is obnoxious and open. Ho wants to learn of Johnston’s craft, but he needs money. Oh and also, Ho wants to find her childhood friend, Minnie, lost for over a decade.
It’s not that it’s confusing, but it’s that tagalong nature of ‘…and then…and then… and then…’ clippiness that tests your patience. The writing wants us to believe Ho joined the force to find her Minnie and then wait to find Johnston to actually find her. But, what makes it a mess is the eagerness in getting the ball rolling too soon, without enough context to properly lay a solid enough a foundation for plot. Mix that with off-the-wall eccentricities in their acting over-the-top and elaborate (though engaging) reenactments of supposed scenes from their cases (again, think on Sherlock Holmes– a Johnston technique for getting insight and perspective of the criminal mind) and one has nausea enough to vomit. Please, settle it down.
Their cracking of skulls and cutting of wrists is temporarily entertaining (that last bit, it’s of the plot), and the to- and fro-, them being crime-fighting misfits for justice and money, I did like. Johnston’s inherent clumsiness from bumping into walls and Ho’s dorkish quality as a female lead creates a quirky incongruity that proves to be narratively complementary. But, of the whole in general, the film tires you, being bipolar and crazed on colored funniness. It is too obviously inspired only by our attention and approval, to laugh and giggle, that I didn’t feel inspired or pleased. The cheap laughs and ta-da rampages of tomfoolery is bitter mustard to that expectedly sweet sandwich, Because one is under pressure to like it, a product of the already incredible but definitely flawed Johnny To, you’ll feel bogged down, pushed from a strong sensory-overload.
What’s unique of Johnny To, at least of his other hot films as of late, Drug War & Accident, is his ability to meld style with fitted, forming innovation. The characters here, of Johnston & Ho, and their arcs, are ininteresting, and the style is far fetched; baggy. It’s funny and playful, then serious; thoughtful. Bit it’s oo much drama and not enough to settle down with in written materials. Ultimately it’s miscalculated.
It’s not bad, and please do not misunderstand my bashing some of its elements. It should be seen. It’s just that Johnny To/Milky Way Production fans expect a certain grace to the show. In any other’s hands it is rather good. Knowing it was from To, well that’s just not right. See his Mad Detective for that.