There’s a bizarre manic energy in Blind Detective that’s distinct to Hong Kong cinema. Not every viewer will be able to gel with the film’s peculiar rhythm, but those familiar with the genre’s tone will get a serious kick out of this buddy cop farce.
The latest film from prolific director Johnnie To, Blind Detective follows Andy Lau’s titular Detective Chong, a retired cop now making a living solving cold cases. While attempting to crack a case regarding sulfur burnings, he meets Inspector Ho (Sammi Cheng), an energetic female cop more used to beating up bad guys than solving cases. The two team up with the motivation to use each other. Ho seeks to learn to be a great detective and use Chong to find her missing childhood friend, Minnie, while Chong seeks to exploit Ho’s independent wealth.
Like all good buddy cops, Ho and Chong are an odd but ideal mix. Lau and Cheng have great chemistry together, with Lau’s madcap zaniness balancing well with Cheng’s more physical humour. They’re chemistry and attractiveness also adds to the film’s requisite romantic subplot. Ho and Chong aren’t just ideal partners in law enforcement, but love as well.
The best scenes in Blind Detective involve Chong’s unconventional methods of deduction, which are a combination of method acting and bizarre costume parties. Donning the outfits of missing persons, Chong leads Ho through recreations of the missing parties’ last known actions in an attempt to understand what they’re next move would have been and discover clues. The activities hilariously escalate from Ho and Chong recreating a murder in a morgue to Chong forcing Ho to get a permanent tattoo in order to show her dedication to solving the case.
Although Blind Detective is a strange comedy, To shoots the film with typical virtuosity. He’s a director known for his stylish visuals such as the mists of blood in the climatic gunfight of 2006’s Exiled. Here he uses stylized lighting to create the visual tone of Chong’s mental state, where Chong imagines himself interviewing the victims and deducing the information from them directly. It’s a neat visual metaphor for investigation, and makes a meta-statement about cinema’s many stylized visualizations of real-life detectives solving crimes.
Still, To occasionally loses focus and lets the film’s manic energy get ahead of the story. For example, a climatic showdown with a serial killer is played for laughs, tonally jarring with the subject matter. As well the resolution to the sexual tension between Chong and Ho is shockingly abrupt, although it does build to a sweet epilogue.
Still, Blind Detective is inventive and hilarious — a soothing antidote to the overly serious crime films coming out of North America these days. Its content may have more in common with Jackie Chan comedies than with To’s previous films, but its polished visual style and assured direction are uniquely its master director’s.
7 out of 10
Blind Detective (2013, Hong Kong)
Directed by Johnnie To; written by Wai Ka Fai, Yau Nai Hoi, Ryker Chan and Yu Xi; starring Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng.
Blind Detective played on Sept. 11, 12 and 14 during the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations program.