Task Force (1997)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-05-16
“Task Force” tells the stories of several days in the lives of three Hong Kong police officers and one prostitute. Each of them has specific issues with other people in their lives: Shirley Lau, the resourceful, brave and tough leader of the task force has a lover, a composer who is literally never available even when she most needs him; LuLu is falling apart after hearing that his ex-wife is about to remarry; Rod, whose father was a policeman killed in the line of duty, is still tied too strongly to his mother who ignores him; Fanny, the prostitute has a mean pimp and an obsession with an ultra-efficient assassin who saved her life once and for whose return she has been waiting for over three years.

Shirley had the only really exceptional story—Rod was only interesting when he was part of her life and Lulu was a dull and shallow character made sympathetic only because he was played by Eric Tsang. Fanny was intriguing as the hooker who almost always lied—a not uncommon affliction among ladies of negotiable virtue since their stock in trade is built on falsehood and fantasy. She is the unreliable narrator of the bunch. The story about the killer who loves her and who will return to her is made both more and less credible by her very detailed depiction of how they met as she recounts how he mowed down scores of armed bad guys while always making sure she was out of the line of fire. To Rod her tale is incredible as it is to the audience since it involves several iconic scenes of gunplay and heroic bloodshed we have seen before in John Woo helmed pictures. But at the same time Fanny, who otherwise has few illusions about her life, lives as if she expects her deadly paramour to show up any minute. If we like Fanny (it is difficult not to) we must accept that in this one instance—a very important one—she is telling the truth. When the killer actually does show up we are relieved that Fanny hadn’t imagined the entire incident—or at least her part in it—but also disturbed since his appearance means that lots of people will die very quickly.

Karen Mok is perfect as Shirley, a very competent and creative woman who is unable to see that she will never be as important to her boyfriend as he is to her—she will always come in second (if that) to his career. She finally realizes this when in a brush off that is callous even by Honk Kong movie standards he tells her that since her father is in a coma there isn’t anything to do so he will just stay at the studio and keep working. While he is never more than a voice on the phone the audience dislikes him very quickly. When Shirley finally understands how much of a lout he is she acts decisively, destroying the computers, piano keyboards, CDs, reel to reel tapes and everything else that her lover (now ex-lover) uses to make music and to hide from her and the rest of the world. It is a wonder of set design with everything arranged just perfectly for Karen Mok to throw, dump and smash it with monitors exploding, compact discs cascading from high shelves and sheet music flying. It was impossible to watch this sensationally effective scene without thinking of Orson Welles destroying the knickknack filled parlor in “Citizen Kane” but this one was much more fun since marked the end of Shirley’s relationship with her loutish lover and marked it with a loud bang. While it is impossible to tell from the film, I imagine (and hope) that they got it on the first take since the set-up would take forever. Karen Mok was the very picture of controlled fury as she razed the room, taking care to demolish every bit of his work that she could but at the same time refusing to spend and extra second in doing so. More than the gun battle in which Allen Mo shoots an incredible number of people from impossible angles, the destruction of the apartment was the centerpiece and strongest image of the movie.

We know that Rod and Fanny are meant for each other from the first few seconds of the movie—he is the bait for a trap to entice Mainland women working as prostitutes so they can be arrested and sent back to China. When this hooker turns out to be a legal resident of Hong Kong it is much too late to extricate Rod from her clutches. As it turns out Rod is just what Fanny has been looking for—a young, inexperienced and unsophisticated cop who she can use to help her get away from her pimp—so she stalks him, always letting him know that she is around and manipulates him into intervening when she needs some muscle.

Rod also has a strong connection to Shirley, accompanying her to the hospital when she gets word of her father’s stroke and visiting the old man on his own. He is used by Lulu to deliver Lulu’s alimony payments to his ex-wife, hoping that she will hint to Rod that she wants to is interested in beginning a relationship again with Lulu. It isn’t surprising that she doesn’t nor is it surprising that Lulu himself is shocked when she announces that she is getting remarried. Lulu is a crass boor, a womanizer who doesn’t want to control himself. One gets the impression that when his wife caught him in a car with a woman it was either not the first time or was a confirmation of what she already knew.

“Task Force” is structured almost perfectly. From the first scene we are drawn into the lives of the characters and get to know them as the movie progresses. While the ending is contrived and over the top we are left with the sense of having gotten to know some interesting people and have shared their lives for a while.

Reviewer Score: 7