30 December 2006 | Adorable
Now here's a good waste of pent up potential, with one of the bigger Asian movies of the 2006 holiday season culminating in a largely uninspiring mixture of several elements that by all rights should have worked well together. At least the title is very apt for what transpires, though.
With both Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro throwing in their weight for this one, there seems no plausible reason for failure, as the two aren't only capable thespians and impressive on-screen, they've previously done good when working on the same project, to wit Chungking Express.
However, this time around we are presented with a mediocre release that dabbles a bit too much in a wide array of influences ranging from crime sagas to supernatural thrillers. Confession of Pain (COP) actually nails none of those right smack on the head.
It starts in 2003, presumably on Christmas Eve, as dashing detective Bong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and his commanding officer Lau Ching Hei (Tony Leung) celebrate the festival by raising toasts and chasing down psychotic criminals. This is where you begin to notice that the movie needs to fess up to more than just it's title: so much is held back, it is as if audiences are expected to surmise literally everything on their own. Not necessarily a bad thing, but COP doesn't do very well with its hint-sprinkling, causing more frustration than anything else. And as every semi-intelligent moviegoer will tell you, most cases of this ilk inevitably lead to one obvious resolution or another, which certainly happens in this case.
At any rate, these first scenes also showcase COP as a product very much endorsed by the Hong Kong government's infatuation with all things touristy, as car chases and other movements traverse the city's more glamorous and unique locales, even if geographically they don't always seem to make too much sense put next to each other like that.
Following a few dark but celebratory successes, the story fast forwards three years to a present tense where Bong faces such tragedy he's moved to quitting the police and switching to the life of a perpetually drunk private eye. Conversely, the more disturbed Lau Ching Hei seems to have hit paydirt, marrying Susan, daughter of a rich businessman. She's done by excellent Xu Jinglei (Spring Subway, Dazzling, My Father and I), and forms the first half of this movie's dominant cast, the ladies. Her complement is Shu Qi, finally recovered from being a thin sliver in Three Times, and looking so sexy you can't get enough of her sweet, giggly portrayal of bar girl Fung. Although Xu Jinglei's northern, Beijing-derived manner isn't exactly at home in a Hong Kong-centric production (plus it's obvious she was dubbed over), Shu Qi's gorgeous visage, extensive Fragrant Harbor filmography and fluent Cantonese mean she's totally like a fish in water here.
Without these two, COP would be close to a total loss. Fortunately, beyond the two female leads, it also possesses an uncanny knack for visceral violence. This is first evinced by a brutal sequence where Susan's wealthy dad gets clobbered over the head with a bronze Budha, with COP sparing us next to no detail. This continues in a few other scenes later on, and we commend directors Lau and Mak for deciding to go with it almost all the way.
Another trait worthy of note is the film's unceasing attempt to throw viewers off. Important events are played and replayed from different perspectives on several occasions, and all seem perfectly reasonable as the story veers ever closer to a who dunnit. So, while COP is basically a blunt tale of violence, suffering, tragedy and revenge, it nonetheless attempts to rise above its simple building blocks with an almost clinical inability to stay still. Does this angle work? Not nearly as well as we would have liked it to. In the end, COP doesn't dish out enough interesting hints, red herrings, easter eggs or even crusty Christmas fruitcake to really intrigue. And even in the brief occasions when it does have you enthralled, the knowledge that sooner or later it'll all come crushing down precludes serious contemplation. This is no David Lynch outing.
As mentioned before, none of the components introduced really get full play. Although Takeshi performs Bong to the best of his ability, and is once more a most likable actor, his relationship with Shu Qi's tantalizing Fung goes nowhere, as the girl pretty soon becomes little more than a comic relief sidekick. The police element isn't explored with any seriousness, featuring several cameos by Chapman To as a officer Tsui, a hapless fellow investigating the bizarre occurrences revolving Susan and her ersatz father. He adds very little to COP, something we regret. Tony Leung, on the other hand, was probably intended as a flatter character, and so we don't feel he was robbed of opportunity as much. Overall, he carries the aloof, surgical Lau Ching Hei with acceptable prowess.
In the end, for something so apparently ambitious, COP gives you very little to take away and mull over, save for Shu Qi in tight jeans and minuscule outfits, but the less we know about what you do with that, the better. A more cohesive storyline would have been preferable, and of course injecting the thing with more elaborate, inventive conventions is high on the list of wish-they'd-thought-of-that's.
To all intents and purposes, we are giving it a pass, yet with the females of the species looking so good and working so well in Confession of Pain, it's a guilty pleasure you may want to allow yourself this time of year.
Rating: * * *