Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2020 1:09 pm 
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An attractive criminal and a red parrot

In this classy, if conventional, new Chinese polar noir, we follow the cops and the crooks with equal sympathy. Particularly we follow career heist specialist Sean Wong (Louis Koo), who currently holes up in a rooming house where where the other lodgers are on the old side (one lady is 95, another 100) and the pretty landlady (Jessica Hester Hsuan), smitten, like us, plies him with special soups and meds. She has a hidden weakness. The cops are less attractive. Three months ago there was a jewelry heist (led by Sean Wong) which left several people dead, but has left few clues. Now, Homer Tsui (Deep Ng), one of Wong's confederates, has been found murdered in the industrial building where the loot was kept. The only witness is a magnificent scarlet red parrot, which has been trained to talk.

In one scene, Detective Lam (Louis Cheung), who's keeping the parrot just in case, dreams it can speak in sentences like a human. He wakes up with a shock and tells the parrot about his dream, and says, "I wonder what I'm like in your dreams." He need not wonder what his colleagues think of his keeping the parrot and hoping for clues from it. Not much. He's a bit of a bumbler. As for the parrot, its Cantonese is poor. But Lam says Cantonese is just too hard a language to teach a parrot. They should have chosen English or French, relatively simple tongues.

Nice details like this are worthy of Andrew Fung (Fung Chih-chiang), a screenwriter of films such as Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer and Johnnie To's Sparrow. This is the fourth of his features as a writer-director, which are in a variety of genres. It's not a high-powered, big budget Hong Kong dazzler. The Screen Anarchy writer Ard Vijn says it's not to be remembered "for its action scenes, plot twists, or outrageous style." Really? Well, maybe not. But it's a nicely crafted procedural with fine moments of character and mood, the parrot, and an ending that seemed twisty enough to me.

Wong is playing detective too, because the jewelry has disappeared, while his heist team members are getting polished off one by one by a mysterious killer. He wants to prove that killer is not him. This whole setup for Louis Ko and the charisma bestowed upon him remind one somewhat of Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai. Edmund Lee calls the character "an amoral enigma" in his South China Morning Post review. He may have musings and misgivings, but he's also capabel of pulling out a long gun and mowing down people. He's got an arsenal in a satchel at the rooming house.

Another officer dies, Inspector Yip (Philip Keung), who had suspected Wong of killing Homer Tsui. As the thieves are knocked off one by one, Inspector Lam and his colleague Charmaine (Cherry Ngan Cheuk-ling) now suspect Yip. It's the old good Hong Kong movie thing of cop double-crosses and suspicions. Another officer accuses Lam of having it in for Yip and protecting Wong, and Internal Affairs comes in to relieve Lam of his badge and gun. Of course that doesn't stop him. Before it's over, all riddles will be solved and needed organs donated. Too tidy? Hey, Forget it Jake, it's Hong Kong.

A Witness Out of the Blue 犯罪現場 ("Scene of the Crime"), 104 mins., debuted a and opened Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and opened in China and Hong Kong in Oct. 2019, Nov. 2019 in Taiwan. It was screened for this review as part of the Aug. 28-Sept 12, 2020 virtual NYAFF.

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