Wednesday, June 24, 2015

NYAFF ’15: Cold War

Up until the crackdown on the Umbrella Protest Movement, the Hong Kong police had remained popular even when the government was not. Despite what we see in Johnnie To and John Woo movies, the police had always kept the city safe, while maintaining a reputation for integrity. That all might come to an explosive halt in Longman Leung & Sunny Luk’s Cold War (trailer here), which screens as part of the tribute to Star Asia Award winner Aaron Kwok at the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival.

The bad guys will be busy while the PR-sensitive police commissioner is attending a conference in Copenhagen. Soon after a bomb explodes in a Mongkok cinema, an emergency response police van is hijacked, along with the five cops assigned to it. “M.B.” Lee Man-bin, the grizzled deputy commish for operations swings into action, putting the force on a war footing and pulling manpower off everyday duties. Unfortunately, all he recovers during the first twenty-four hours are five mannequins wired with explosives.

Smooth-talking Deputy Commissioner for Administration Lau Kit-fai believes his colleague has over-reacted, perhaps because his son is one of the hostages. When Lee overplays his hand, Lau will move to replace him as acting commissioner. Of course, he might just regret taking ownership of the cluster-dustup codenamed “Cold War,” especially when Internal Affairs starts investigating the aftermath.

Cold War is a fine vehicle for Kwok, showcasing his steely, well-tailored lawman’s chops, much like the relentlessly by-the-book prosecutor in Silent Witness, selected for last year’s NYAFF. Yet not surprisingly, “Big” Tony Leung Ka-fai out hardnoses everyone as the from-the-hip Lee. He and Kwok generate sparks together, like a seat belt dragging down the highway. In fact, the best part of Cold War is the way their relationship evolves from rival into something different.

Cold War also boasts an all-star supporting ensemble, but it does not always fully capitalize, such as when Andy Lau briefly parachutes in, flashing his winning smile as Lau Kit-fai’s political patron. As the public information officer, Charlie Young holds her own with Leung in a key early scene, but she is mostly on exposition duty aside from that. However, Eddie Peng shows hitherto unseen grit as the kidnapped Joe Lee.

Co-director-screenwriters Leung and Luk try too hard to manufacture twists, but the way they merge office politics and urban warfare is definitely entertaining. Just watching Leung and Kwok go at it is seriously good fun. Recommended for fans large scale cop thrillers, Cold War screens this Saturday (6/27) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.