Tuesday, October 01, 2013

SFFS Hong Kong Cinema ’13: The Conspirators

They say lawyers who represent themselves have fools for clients.  Evidently, the same holds true for private detectives.  This is especially true of Chan Tam, the so-called “C+ Detective,” who has never inspired much confidence with his sleuthing skills.  He will enlist a local gumshoe in Malaysia for a highly personal case in Oxide Pang’s The Conspirators (a.k.a. The Detective 3, trailer here), which screens during the San Francisco Film Society’s annual Hong Kong Cinema film series.

As the dubious hero of Pang’s Detective franchise, Tam has considerable history as a character, but the only backstory viewers need to know Pang establishes in about five seconds.  The C+ Detective’s parents were murdered by the drug cartel they may have once worked for in some capacity, so Tam has come for revenge.  Since Thailand is his base of operations, he has retained the services of Zheng Fong-hei, a skilled but asthmatic martial artist, who is considerably better at his job than Zheng.

As soon as Zheng starts helping Tam track down persons of interest, dead bodies start popping up. It is dangerous to be an old friend of the family like the mysterious Chai.  Before long, both detectives are marked for murder.  However, the soon-to-be late Chai’s daughter might know where to find the MacGuffin Tam lost before he even knew he had it.

Pang is not Johnnie To, but he can still stage an effective action scene, capitalizing on one-time Royal Hong Kong police officer Nick Cheung’s chops.  In fact, Conspirators has a murky, morally ambiguous atmosphere that is quite evocative of 1970’s genre films.  It is also rather entertaining to see watch Cheung’s Zheng and Kwok’s Tam engage in a battle of hardnosed seething.  Cheung takes the honors, but Kwok hangs with him, revisiting what has become his signature character of the last decade or so.  Shaw Brother alumnus Chen Kuan Tai and Bullet Vanishes standout Jiang Yiyan also add further noir heft to the supporting ensemble.

The crime story mechanics of Pang’s screenplay, co-written with his brother Thomas and Ng Mang-cheung, are all rather workaday, but the execution on screen is quite strong. Old pros Cheung and Kwok deliver the goods as the action co-leads, while Pang drenches everything with pseudo-John Woo visual style.  The results are highly entertaining.  Recommended for fans of dark revenge thrillers, The Conspirators screens this coming Sunday (10/6) as part of the SFFS’s eagerly awaited Hong Kong Cinema series.