Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Live Hong on Kong Action!

Breaking News
2004, Hong Kong
Johnny To

Hong Kong is to action films like Montreal is to contact strip clubs; for better or worse, the two are forever entwined, and both make the kind of guys who memorize Formula One statistics soil their Calvin Kleins. I doubt things could change over there even if they wanted them to. If Hong Kong started shipping over romantic comedies or Shakespeare adaptations, you’d get audiences leaving the theatre twenty minutes into the film once they realized the chances of them seeing a mobster in wraparound 80s sunglasses surrounded by slow motion doves and backlit by muzzle flare are slim to none. Often times, as in the case of John Woo, all their exports do is clutter up video store shelves with fodder for the lobotomized masses to rent when the football season’s over, but every once in a while, a film like Breaking News comes along that shows us there actually is some talent over there not dedicated to cracking Macrovision copy protection and figuring out how much MSG it will take to fell the entire Occidental empire with brain lesions. Director Johnny To follows the Takeshi Miike school of filmmaking, which involves making a film roughly every ten minutes, and while he’s not quite as popular over here as Miike, he’s certainly the more talented of the two. This is not particularly difficult, as Miike is a gibbering idiot whose violent videotaped sex fantasies have somehow been interpreted by Western audiences as mad genius, when in fact they should be used as evidence in a pre-emptive sterilization procedure. Actually, he’s not even that popular, it’s just that he’s infiltrated into the ranks of cult directors worshipped by snotty video store clerks hoping their nerdy taste will somehow elevate them to Quentin Tarantino status in the eyes of the attractive waitresses from the all-night coffee shop next door. The thing is, most video store clerks are video store clerks because they dropped out of university with half a film degree, live in their parents’ basement, and need spending money for region-less DVD players and a new bong, so their opinion is roughly as valid as the one you’ll get asking a homeless guy with no teeth and an armful of bad prison tattoos to recommend this summer’s hottest read. Breaking News, to struggle back to the point, is a rather enjoyable, though simplistic, tale of cops, robbers and elaborately staged Steadycam shots. After a botched sting operation that ends in police fatalities and the escape of a crew of heavily armed criminals, the police try to improve their public image by filming their next operation and releasing it to the media. Of course, having not seen Wag the Dog, they don’t realize that this is doomed to failure on their part and boredom on ours, but To spices things up by adding a couple of additional crooks to the mix, about a hundred gun battles, and enough bullets to pepper the backing tracks of a half-dozen 50 Cent concerts. While the film loses focus and wanders into the realm of the improbable fairly quickly, it’s fast paced, and though it will never be accused of being intelligent, at least it’s short. At under 90 minutes, I’ll tolerate pretty much any idiocy above the Michael Bay level, because that still leaves plenty of time to hit the peelers afterwards.


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