The Detective 2 (B+侦探) Review
Whenever the name Oxide Pang is mentioned in the entertainment industry, one would clearly be reminded of The Eye (2002) but not for Re-cycle (2006), a film that many people did not appreciate or the film did not appeal to them and let’s all forget about the Hollywood remake because Asian movies should stay in Asia. Visually, the Pang brothers can awe the viewers with their stylish camera style and perfect editing but what really makes them highly recognized as great directors is the manner in which they piece together the human mind on the big screen. How the mind works has nothing to do with the genre or the category of a film – thriller, horror etc, but rather in the portrayal of a character with his/her mind being confronted with an inevitable or inescapable situation, requiring the character to think deeply.
With this type of movie in mind, one of the Pang brothers, Oxide, tried his luck in a solo project – a film, carried out in 2007 titled The Detective, which received a lot of attention and sparked numerous reviews/comments from movie critics. One of the questions critics asked was what and why a Chinese-speaking detective and policemen were doing in Thailand, which not many people understood. Despite that, Thailand was the appropriate and perfect setting for the movie; the gritty and small alleys, the heat, the atmosphere, the stalls and the elephant, when blended in together were the perfect elements for a believable old-school detective movie. These ingredients make The Detective such a magnificent “dish”, satisfying the viewers.
In the sequel titled simply as The Detective 2, Tam (Aaron Kwok) has become a popular detective with a good private investigation business after he single-handedly solved one of the weirdest murders of all time (in the first movie) within a group of mahjong players. Now, the police has also invited Tam to help investigate the unsolved murder cases through the recommendation of his good childhood friend, Inspector Chak (Liu Kai Chi), who hires Tam as a Chinatown informant. Tam’s involvement in the case is not welcome and well-received by some within the police force including a young arrogant senior officer. The murder cases comprise of the death of an off-duty hooker after she was sexually assaulted and a loan shark who was tortured to death. The similarity in both crime scenes is that the murderer(s) did not leave any fingerprints but rather mind-boggling clues. With these details of the cases, Tam starts his own investigation. Later, however, he realises that the terrifying killer he is trying to find might be an underage one or even a child.
From the first scene, I felt there was a big difference compared to the first movie: with the case unfolding before we were introduced to Tam. This time the case is presented to Tam by Inspector Chak unlike the investigation of the mahjong playmate murder that began due to a client who has in his/her possession a photo of an unnamed girl. It is rather unfortunate that this is one big mistake of the movie. I believe Oxide wanted to make changes or show the progress as to how Tam, the character, has improved in investigating cases but it left a synthetic feeling throughout the movie making it a bit “draggy” at times. I prefer the detective who would stumble upon clues and find shocking revelations about the case rather than having a crime lab officer mathematically put the pieces of the puzzle together. One thing for sure, Tam is no CSI. He works hard to solve a murder, not sitting around just thinking. It’s not the ‘who-has-done-it’ that makes it interesting, it’s the ‘what the hell is going on’ that intrigues the viewers and sustains the suspense in the investigation. That’s why his phone’s camera, magnifying glass, notebook, toy gun, toothpick and door pick were so memorable items, which characterised him as a unique investigator.
The background setting in The Detective 2 was also so clean, spic-and-span as if polished till it shone, which really killed the basic element of this thriller. The memorable rift between the settings in the The Detective – the body dump site, the bloody dying elephant and the flying fridge, which showed the gritty side of Thailand, just wasn’t there; instead, the viewers get to see the ‘brighter’ side of Thailand. Another surprise is the absence of supernatural elements in the sequel. I believe Oxide tried hard to escape from the Asian cliché and predictable cinema but somehow it’s one of the strengths of The Detective which is much better than getting into the mind of a killer via story-telling approach.
Despite these shortcomings, The Detective 2 still manages to shock the audience with the twisted plots and a major surprise towards the end. The saviour of the movie is undoubtedly Aaron Kwok himself, who tries to show a sense of maturity in his character, especially in how he adapts when facing a dangerous situation (watch out for the market scene), how he counters the words of an annoying new officer or suspects. As the Chinese title itself has given a big hint of a trilogy, in the first instalment it was C+ Detective and now, B+ Detective, I accept this sequel as a connecting bridge to a great ending in the third instalment and I forgive the humanization and the ‘toned down’ storyline. Let’s hope that A+ Detective will return in full blast!