Blind Detective (盲探)Director: Johnnie To
Cast: Andy Lau, Sammi Cheng, Guo Tao, Gao Yuan Yuan, Lo Hoi Pang, Wong Man Wai, Lam Suet
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Run Time: 130 mins
Opens: 4 July 2013
Rating: NC16 (Some Violence)
Andy Lau plays Johnston Chong, a former Hong Kong police detective who has retired after suffering a detached retina and lives off of police rewards offered to those who provide tip-offs. Inspector Goldie Ho (Cheng) has a run in with Johnston while working a case, and fascinated by his crime-solving abilities, enlists his help in solving a case that went cold over ten years ago, involving the disappearance and presumed murder of a series of young women.
Forgive us if the above synopsis makes this sound like your regular, sense-making police procedural flick: it’s not. This is supposed to be some sort of comedy, and to call the slapstick tomfoolery “broad” would be like calling the Burj Khalifa “tall” – a gross understatement. The film takes place in real-world Hong Kong, not some heightened cartoon realm, so it is absolutely baffling when everybody acts like they’ve stepped out of an old Tex Avery animated short. Not only is the comedy off-kilter, it’s oftentimes downright off-putting, particularly when it makes light of self-mutilation, murder and even cannibalism.
Andy Lau’s Johnston is less Blind Swordsman Zatoichi and more Mr Magoo. Lau apparently studied with visually-impaired students and trained for six weeks to portray a blind character – the result? An “unorthodox” ex-policeman who bumps into things a lot and who eats in every other scene, which we guess is supposed to be “symbolic” of something. The character isn’t the typical leading man Lau portrays, so he comes off as miscast at times. Among his more outré habits involves forcing his partner to re-enact scenarios leading up to a crime method acting-style. We suspect Sherlock Holmes must be snickering in a corner, and this is a second blow to Lau after his recent dud Switch.
Cheng has memorably teamed up with Lau on several occasions and here, the two attempt a screwball comedy-esque partnership that never works, but not for lack of her trying. Goldie is a boisterous child-like character, the eager female sidekick who inevitably brings about a forced romantic subplot. During its last act, the film attempts to give Johnston and Goldie moments of pathos which, as one can expect, are extremely jarring given the high comedy the rest of the film aims for.
The case central to the film’s plot is frustratingly difficult to follow when it should have been pretty straight-forward. Using his imagination, Johnston inserts himself into black-and-white flashbacks to “communicate” with the victims of the crime – an awkwardly-executed visual device. The film appears to equate 'imagination' with 'deduction', resulting in little logic behind the conclusions Johnston somehow arrives at.
Director Johnnie To, well-known for some particularly intense thrillers (including the recent Drug War) stumbles hard with this bizarre full-tilt comedy; the screenplay by Wa Ka Fai, Yau Nai-Hoi, Xi Yu and Ryker Chan equally to blame. We’re pretty sure Lau could have played a great blind detective, given the right script and the right tone, both of which are conspicuously absent here.
SUMMARY: Blind Detective is tone-deaf to what makes for good comedy, forcing the square peg of over-the-top jokes into the round hole of a crime thriller. The end product is a stupefying blend of pratfalls and squirm-worthy grotesque moments that wastes the charm of its leading man.
RATING: 1.5 out of 5 STARS