Hong Kong’s most reliably excellent director brings back Lau Ching Wan for another collaboration in Mad Detective, their first in several years. It’s a Hong Kong police procedural, familiar territory to Hong Kong film fans, except that it has a rather creative twist. Lau Ching Wan plays Bun, a brilliant intuitive detective who has a knack for solving crimes through putting himself in the shoes of their participants, seeing their inner conflicts and motivations. Unfortunately, he’s also a little unbalanced, convinced he can see people’s “inner personalities”, and solemnly presenting one of his ears to his police chief as a retirement present.
This earns Bun an early retirement himself, the sort that cames with regular trips to the therapist and a great deal of medication. He made an impression on rookie policeman Ho (Andy On), though, and when he’s stuck on a case, Ho comes to seek Bun’s help. Bun joins him in trailing Chi Wai (Gordon Lam), who is suspected of being involved in his partner’s disappearance.
The film’s hook is Bun’s conviction that he can see all of a person’s inner personalities at once. The viewpoint shifts between that of an outside observer and Bun’s fractured vision, where a shot of ChiWai walking down the street, whistling, is cut to a posse of different characters representing the real Chi Wai, all whistling along. It’s elegantly done, and makes for an interesting take on Bun’s illness, but it can be confusing at times as well. Lau Ching Wan’s performance as Bun is excellent, leaping (sometimes literally) to conclusions and bounding along after his suspect with childlike glee. His character literally is the film, and it just wouldn’t have worked with a weaker performance.
Aside from Bun’s peculiar worldview, the film is set in the usual Milkyway universe, a hard-boiled vision of Hong Kong at street level. It’s perhaps not as polished a film as Johnnie To’s recent Sparrow or Election, but it’s something a bit more experimental and unusual, and worth seeing just for that.