OVERHEARD 2 Review
From a narrative point of view, Felix Chong & Alan Mak's OVERHEARD 2 is a sequel in name only to their underwhelming 2009 thriller. They assemble the same heavyweight cast of Lau Ching Wan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu, and the film is again produced by Derek Yee, but with an entirely new story and cast of characters. That said, the film is most certainly a continuation of the themes addressed in the first film - this is a surveillance/financial thriller where, even in a community riddled with gangsters and vengeful vigilantes, the real bad guys are the fat cat bankers and investors who manipulate the stock markets for personal gain at the expense of everybody else.
The good news is that OVERHEARD 2 is superior to its predecessor in almost every respect. While the first film had an interesting premise that it then refused to develop in a single interesting direction, here the script follows its character and story arcs right through to a satisfying finale. The plot is dense and layered but never confusing and remembers that first and foremost it is a piece of entertainment, rather than an expose on insider trading. We spend quality time with each of our central triumvirate, exploring their personal lives and motivations, as well as their interweaving actions and dealings that make up the central story. Mak and Chong deal with a number of classic themes of Hong Kong Cinema - greed, loyalty, betrayal, revenge - and even find time to stage a couple of entertaining action sequences that service the story as well as being thrilling in their own right.
Mansun Wong (Lau Ching Wan) is a successful stockbroker who has been brought in to a high level syndicate to handle their portfolio. He understands that the money comes from dubious sources, but chooses not to ask questions and simply do what he is told and reap the substantial financial benefits. Wong takes his orders from the mysterious Tony (Kenneth Tsang), who lives overseas and whom he only converses with via satellite phone away from his office. While preparing to take one such call, Wong takes to the streets in his gorgeous blue Ferrari, only to realize he is being followed.
Sure enough, a mysterious surveillance operative, Joe (Daniel Wu), has been watching and listening in on his every move. Wong has to pull a number of high-risk vehicular maneuvers to lose his tail, only to get broadsided by a truck the moment he is free and clear. Amongst the wreckage, the police discover a military issue surveillance bug and call in Inspector Jack Ho (Louis Koo) of the Security Bureau to investigate. After confronting Wong in hospital, Ho begins his search for the rogue eavesdropper, but even as Joe causes increasing amounts of collateral damage to evade capture, Ho begins to suspect that Wong might be the bigger crook. However, Joe's true motives and loyalties are still unclear.
The casting of Daniel Wu should be enough of a hint to viewers that Joe is no clear-cut villain, but that he will become increasingly sympathetic as the film goes on. It is revealed early on that he lives at an old people's home, where his mother is suffering from Alzheimer's and believes him to be his dead father. Together they enjoy that classic family movie, Jean-Pierre Melville's LE SAMOURAI and a significant amount of screen time is devoted to conversations about Alain Delon. Joe is a predictably earnest, yet solitary figure, beloved by the elderly residents, yet committed to carrying out his nefarious plan. Wu can play this kind of character in his sleep and does a perfectly fine job here of making Joe likable but still threatening, although as was the case with the first film, he has ultimately drawn the short straw of the three central characters.
Lau Ching Wan puts in an impressively nuanced performance here as the shady broker who may well by king of his own particular castle but must remain humble and sheepish around his potentially dangerous veteran employers. As he gets increasingly out of his depth, this humility turns to outright fear, especially after Tony comes into town to sort out the mess once and for all. Throughout all this, Wong still finds the time for a stable, if not entirely honest, marriage to his personal lawyer, Emily. Huang Yi (last seen in Wong Jing's martial arts comedy TREASURE INN) puts in a nice little turn as the committed and protective advisor who slowly begins to realize she's been kept in the dark.
Louis Koo is the hero here, however, as the special branch cop so dedicated he even put his own wife (Michelle Ye) in jail for corruption a few years back. Despite sporting his trademark tan, Koo opts for some dubious facial hair this time out and a curious salt and pepper look that no doubt indicates the perpetual stress of a career do-gooder such as Jack Ho. What at first appeared to be a simple wire-tapping case, quickly has Ho questioning his own judgment as his investigation shows up both Wong and Joe as something far different to his initial assumptions. Couple this with the fact that his resentful brother-in-law (Wilfred Lau) is also his subordinate and his wife is due for release any day now and the pressure is most certainly on.
All things considered, OVERHEARD 2 might just be the best Hong Kong film of the summer, in a season that has been notably lacking in anything resembling quality local fare. It wisely steers clear of preaching to its audience about the penalties of playing the stock market, instead delivering strong characters, plausible motivations and tense set pieces, be they staged in expensive cars on treacherous highways, or hunched over computers as stock prices fluctuate wildly. With this and the underrated Donnie Yen actioner THE LOST BLADESMAN, it has been a pretty good year for the always ambitious Mak/Chong partnership, who at the risk of speaking too soon, might have finally got their act together.
OVERHEARD 2 opens in Hong Kong today.