Saturday, May 20, 2023

MAD DETECTIVE (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai, Hong Kong, 2007)


Bun is cursed not with the preternatural ability to interact with other people's “inner personalities” …but in not being able to see his own. Suffering from a debilitating mental illness, Bun is released from the police force after severing his ear and offering it to the retiring commissioner. He spends the next few years in seeming isolation, accompanied only by his imaginary wife. When he is needed by a young detective to solve a heinous crime, he refuses his meds and psychiatric advice to once again use his abilities and sacrifices himself for a higher cause. 

This is an interesting character study that peers deep within Bun’s convoluted mind but ultimately doesn’t reveal his secrets. Directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai erect the film’s structure around Bun, we see mostly from his skewed perspective, we experience the ghostly personalities that haunt the world; these deadly sins that push the characters towards vice, decadence, and finally the ultimate sin….betrayal. To and Ka-Fai forgo the need for tricky camera shots and hyper-editing and let the narrative develop more intimately, they give us insight into Bun’s personal life such as the sad dinner, the seat across from him forever empty. This imbues us with empathy for our protagonist; though mad, he may be the only sane person in the entire drama because he stays true to his own uncorrupted nature. 

The final surreal shootout is homage to Orson Welles' LADY FROM SHANGHAI, shattered mirrors and dark reflections, like sharks mad with their own blood, devouring themselves. Unlike Welles' protagonist Michael O’Hara, there is no escape for Bun, his fate the nihilistic void of an eternal restful peace while the world remains restless, full of violence, bloodshed, and injustice.

Final Grade: (B+)