San taam (2007)


(director: Johnnie To/Wai Ka Fai; screenwriters: Wai Ka Fai/Au Kin Yee; cinematographer: Cheng Siu Keung; editor: Tina Baz; music: Xavier Jamaux; cast: Lau Ching Wan (Bun), Andy On (Ho), Lam Ka Tung (Ko Chi-wai), Kelly Lin (May/Inspector Cheung), Karen Lee (Gigi), Lee Kwok Lun (Wong Kwuk Chu), Lam Suet (Ko’s inner fat man), Lau Kam Ling (Ko’s inner businesman, Flora Chan (May Cheung in Bun’s eyes), Cheung Siu Fai (Ko’s inner violent man), Jonathan Lee (Ho’s scared inner boy), Wong Wah Wo (Restaurant manager); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Johnnie To/Wai Ka Fai;; IFC Films; 2007-Hong Kong-in Cantonese with English subtitles)
“An inventive oddball pic that’s diverting and borders on the ridiculous but never becomes uninteresting or completely loses its way.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Hong Kong producers and directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai have tinkered with the detective genre and bring cop investigative work up to the level of the supernatural, in an inventive oddball pic that’s diverting and borders on the ridiculous but never becomes uninteresting or completely loses its way. It’s based on the bizarre story by Wai Ka Fai and Au Kin Yee, about a nutty master sleuth Bun (Lau Ching Wan) who is bounced from the force despite all his success because he cuts off his ear in the precinct house at a farewell party and offers it as a gift for the retiring chief.

Some five-years later, after his dismissal from the force, an ambitious young cop, Ho (Andy On), who hero-worships from afar the rumpled, wild-haired and sock-less clairvoyant Bun, contacts him and asks the former cop his help to solve the 18-month case gone cold of the missing cop Wong whose gun has been used lethally in several recent robberies.

In the opening scene Bun shows how he operates by psychic intuition to crack cases, as he orders a fellow cop to hurl him down several flights of stairs in a closed suitcase and he emerges bloodied but victoriously stating: “The ice-cream man is the killer!” This turns out to be correct.

The film’s conceit has Bun able to see the real inner personalities of others by seeing inside them, while others can’t see them.This leads Bun to crack the difficult case, as he starts following Wang’s policepartnerKo Chi-wai (Lam Ka Tung)–a complex man with many guarded inner personalities. But Bun has trouble convincing Ho that he’s got the guilty party by the loony way he came to that conclusion, and that leads to a climax that reminds one of the hall of mirrors in Orson Welles’ “The Lady From Shanghai” (1948).

The ghosts are played by separate actors, and this presentation brings the gimmicky film to the height of comical lunacy as it goes about its business in a deadly serious manner. In a comical way, many scenes are devoted to Bun conversing with his imaginary wife (Kelly Lin) after his real wife Inspector Cheung (also Kelly Lin) divorced him.

Not for all tastes, but for those adventurous film-goers who hunger for weirdness this spicy one has some zing. It might be a good idea, but it doesn’t completely work and its psychological reasoning for these inner conflicts seems either superficial (like most have inner beings as excuses to cover-up their mistakes) or not adequately covered (like Bun’s inner world).