THE DETECTIVE 2 Review
Although probably still best known for their 2002 horror hit, THE EYE, the Pang Brothers have never stopped working. In the decade since, they have experienced further success with RECYCLE and STORM WARRIORS, as well as burned their fingertips in the Hollywood cauldron with THE MESSENGERS and their ill-advised remake of their own BANGKOK DANGEROUS with Nicholas Cage. The twins have also indulged in solo projects, with no greater success than older brother Oxide's 2007 supernatural snooper, THE DETECTIVE. At the time, star Aaron Kwok was riding a wave of critical praise in the wake of award-winning performances in DIVERGENCE and AFTER THIS OUR EXILE, while the project gave Oxide the opportunity to work in their beloved Bangkok. The result was a smart, spooky thriller that perfectly captured the sweltering heat and grungy environment of the Thai capital, coupled with a likable down-at-heel lead in Kwok's bungling private eye.
Four years later, Pang has reassembled the same cast and crew in the hope of recapturing some of the magic, with our hero now enjoying newfound fame, thanks to his successes detailed in the first film. Business is on the up, but private investigator Tam (Kwok) still aspires to join the Bangkok police force and work alongside old pal, Inspector Chak (Liu Kai Chi). However, when Chak is passed over for promotion again and reassigned under a pig-headed new C.I. (Patrick Tam), he hires Tam as his Chinatown informant, to help investigate the murders of a loan shark and an off-duty hooker. Elsewhere a young Chinese orphan appears to be developing an unhealthy fixation on his older sister, resulting in frequent outbursts of violent behaviour, both at home and at school. It's not long before Tam begins to suspect the killings are the work of a child and the two story threads are set to collide.
The first film's biggest strengths were its look and the fact that Kwok's detective wasn't particularly talented at his chosen profession. He solved crimes more by luck than by judgment, stumbling upon clues and revelations rather than by applying any well-honed powers of deduction. In this film, however, he appears to have improved exponentially, putting even the quasi-psychic abilities of Det. Will Graham from Michael Mann's MANHUNTER to shame when it comes to getting into the mind of a killer. We learn early in the first film that Tam is an orphan, and a major sub-plot involves him solving his parents' 30-year-old murder. Merely by studying crime scenes and muttering to himself for a few minutes, Tam now seems able to deduce whether or not the perpetrator was an orphan and how they may or may not have reacted in certain circumstances. While the film's Chinese title acknowledges that our hero has graduated from being a "C+ Detective" to a "B+ Detective", there's no real explanation as to how this has happened, beyond a little boost in his self-confidence.
For a long time the Pang Brothers' work has carried a signature visual style, a grimy, earthen aesthetic reminiscent of the early films of David Fincher. While Pang here retains the services of regular cinematographer Decha Srimantra, THE DETECTIVE 2 appears cleaner, brighter and unfortunately all the blander for it. The story also dispenses with the supernatural elements of the previous film, which one had hoped would become a signature element of the series (the title alone hints at the desire for a third "A+ Detective" film), but that has been dispensed with in favour of a far less interesting, not too mention clichéd and predictable, murder case. As if to confirm suspicions that both these elements have been "sanitised" in the hope of getting mainland distribution, the film also prominently features two Mandarin-speaking characters, while its predecessor employed only Cantonese and Thai. Gone is the singular, sweat-stained mystic of Thailand, but nothing of worth has replaced it.
In the end, THE DETECTIVE 2 is passable, but certainly nothing more than that, all too reminiscent of a run-of-the-mill BBC TV drama, and largely lacking the verve and vitality that made the first film so noteworthy. Aaron Kwok remains likeable, if inexplicably clairvoyant, in the lead and proves that he is a far better actor when he refrains from the eye-rolling histrionics that sometimes take him over. Liu Kai Chi is reliable as ever as the dependable flatfoot and heads up a solid supporting cast that also features Cheung Siu Fai and the aforementioned Tam. However, the film can't hide the fact that it's an inconsequential stopgap, that difficult second act ahead of what we can only hope will be a more satisfying and worthwhile finale. The subtle acquiescences to the Chinese market may already be telling enough, however, that Pang's best DETECTIVE film is already behind him and only further compromise and mediocrity lie ahead for the series and its audience.
The Detective 2
- Oxide Chun Pang
- Oxide Chun Pang
- Thomas Pang
- Aaron Kwok
- Patrick Tam
- Beibi Gong
- Hin-Wai Au