Hong Kong Cinema: MAD DETECTIVE (2007)

Lobby card for MAD DETECTIVE (2007)

Is he a genius, a psychic, or a madman? Perhaps a little of all three. In Mad Detective (2007), Officer Bun (Lau Ching Wan) is a Hong Kong police detective with a knack for solving the most difficult murder cases. His unorthodox methods involve his ability to “see” the “inner personalities” of others, but also erratic and sometimes bizarre behavior. When he presents his boss with a rather gruesome gift at the latter’s retirement ceremony, he’s kicked off the force and sent to see a psychiatrist, who medicates him for psychosis.

Sometime later, a former subordinate, Ho (Andy On) approaches him for help on a case. Another detective, Wong (Lee Kwok Lun), has disappeared while attempting to arrest a suspect with his partner Ko (Lam Ka Tung). During the subsequent eighteen months, Wong’s police revolver has been used in a series of robberies in which victims have been killed. Ho has no leads but sees Bun as a “master” who can crack the case. Against his wife’s apparent wishes, Bun agrees to work as a consultant, but soon begins to behave as if he’s been given his old job back.

Directed by Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To (Election, 2005) and frequent collaborator Wai Ka Fai (Too Many Ways to Be No. 1, 1997) from a screenplay by Wai and Au Kin Yee, this combination psychological thriller and crime action film makes clever use of editing to set up surprises as to what’s real and what’s not. Bun hallucinates as well as sees visions, so when he zeros in on a suspect in the case, it’s not entirely clear that the seven personalities (symbolic of the “seven deadly sins”) that he sees in his target mean that he’s guilty. An alternative explanation is equally plausible.

As a result, all the players end up in a final showdown. This situation leads to a classic Hong Kong actioner set-piece, a gun battle in a room full of mirrors that makes concrete the illusion-versus-reality theme. The outcome resolves the plot but leaves this thematic question open. The satisfying mixture of fast-paced action and thoughtful, psychologically based mystery is what prompted me to give Mad Detective four out of five stars on Letterboxd.

Hong Kong cinema has been a long-term interest for me, so expect to see more of my thoughts on it in the future.