He is sort of a consulting detective, whose bedside manner is about as warm and friendly as Holmes at his chilliest. Chong “Johnston” Si-teun has a sizeable ego and an even larger chip on his shoulder, but he is not without empathy—for the dead. Somehow, he still might find love with a far less deductive copper (his personal Lestrade) in Johnnie To’s genre blender, Blind Detective (trailer here), which screens on the opening night of the 2013 edition of the San Francisco Film Society’s annual Hong Kong Cinema series.
Johnston’s sudden onset of blindness forced him to retire as police detective, but he still solves crimes for a living. He now relies on reward bounties, particularly those still valid for cold cases. Impressed by his results, Inspector Ho Ka-tung retains his services to find her long missing high school friend, Minnie. She has always been good with firearms and martial arts, but the cerebral side of detective work has always troubled her. Promising to teach her his methods, Johnston moves into her spacious pad, but immediately back-burners Minnie’s case in favor of several expiring bounties.
The half-annoyed Ho indulges Johnston for a while, eventually embracing his extreme re-enactment techniques. Blind arguably reaches its zenith when Johnston and Ho recreate a grisly murder conveniently set in a morgue, strapping on helmets and whacking each other over the head with hammers. If you ever wanted to see the Three Stooges remakes Silence of the Lambs, To delivers the next closest thing. Of course, their search for Minnie soon percolates back to the surface, when Johnston starts to suspect she fell victim to a serial killer preying broken-hearted young women.
Much like the old cliché about the weather, if you don’t like the tone of Blind Detective, just wait five minutes, because it will change. You do not see many films incorporating elements of romantic comedy, slapstick farce, and dark serial killer thrillers, probably for good reason. To gives roughly equal weight to all three, yet it all hangs together better than one might expect.
Sammi Cheng is a major reason Blind works to the extent that it does. It is great to see her Inspector Ho act as the film’s primary action figure and her radiant presence lights up the screen. She develops decent chemistry with Andy Lau’s Johnston, but he looks profoundly uncomfortable in the intuitive curmudgeon’s skin. However, To fans will be relieved to hear Lam Suet duly turns up as a fugitive gambler hiding out in Macao.
To also delivers plenty of bang for the audience’s bucks in the third act. There are some distinctly creepy bits and a fair amount of suspense. On the other hand, a drawn out subplot involving Johnston’s long held crush on a dance instructor chews up plenty of time but serves little purpose except to telegraph the feelings beginning to stir between the odd couple detectives.
Thanks to two well executed showdowns, Cheng’s winning performance, and some evocative Hong Kong locales, Blind Detective chugs along steadily enough for a while and picks up mucho momentum down the stretch. Recommended for To fans and those with a taste for comedic mysteries, Blind Detective screens this Friday night (10/4) at the Vogue Theatre as part of the SFFS’s 2013 Hong Kong Cinema series. Action aficionados should also check out Chow Yun-fat’s massive return to form in Wong Jing’s The Last Tycoon screening Saturday (10/5) and Sunday (10/6) at the same venue.