Mad Detective (2007)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2010-04-18
“Mad Detective” is Johnny To’s very dark look at a mentally ill police officer whose illness allows him to solve murders that stymie the rest of the force and the social and personal effects of his actions. We watch Lau Ching-Wan becoming increasingly outrageous and out of control—for example he “solves” the killing of a student whose body was found stuffed in a suitcase by folding himself into a soft-sided piece of luggage and having his new assistant kick it down several flights of stairs. When he gets to the ground floor, bruised and bloodied, he blurts out the name of the killer.

His behavior becomes too much though when at a retirement ceremony for a senior officer he slices off a large chunk of his ear and gives it to the captain as a personal going away gift. We next see him five years later, unemployed and unemployable, accompanied by his long-suffering wife.

Who, as it turns out, has left him years before and now is his companion only in his fevered imagination. Detective Bun is a very sad case. He is approached by Inspector Ho (Andy On, in a role that doesn’t stretch his limited acting ability) who has been tasked with solving an odd crime from years before. Wong, a uniformed police officer and Chi-Wai are in a car staking out a desolate area one dark night. The criminal they are waiting for shows up and they go after him, chasing him into a dense forest. Wong and Chi-Wai neither trust nor respect each other—Wong thinks that Chi-Wai is a thief (which he is) and Chi-Wai knows that Wong doesn’t have the fortitude to turn him in. They are not a good pair to run into a dark wood chasing a desperate and possibly armed criminal.

But they do. Chi-Wai is wounded, Wong and his gun go missing and the criminal escapes. Wong’s sidearm is used in a series of brutal armed robberies in which several of the victims are shot and killed. They range from very small time such as $6,000 at a convenience store to audacious—almost $2 million from an armored car.

By now the viewer is confused—Bun has shown both the manic glee that overtakes him as well as the hellish depth of despair. He has mutilated himself—his prosthetic ear keeps falling off—and resolutely refuses to live in what the rest of the world considers reality. I think that Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai are too good at what they do for this confusion not to be deliberate. They are not only showing us the outside of Bun’s insanity but giving us a harrowing glimpse inside as well. We are confused by the extravagant incoherence on the screen as characters disappear then reappear as different actors, police officers stand around while their office is trashed and characters who should be dead show up to take part in the action. This is just a bit of former officer Bun’s daily life though—even when called on to help solve a murder—given responsibility and structure in his life—he must still live with his demons.

Lau Ching-Wan is masterful as a man who is both gifted and damned with the ability to see the true personalities of others. Of the supporting cast, Lam Suet impersonates himself as one of Wong’s seven personalities; Jo Kuk Cho-Lam’s angular looks are perfect for the controlling, super-ego cool personality and Chiu Chi-Shing is the shoot first, think later aspect. Kelly Lin isn’t challenged as Bun’s ex-wife while Flora Chan makes the most of her few scenes as the wife that Bun thinks he still has. Wang Wa-Wo is intriguing as the restaurant manager who sets a table for four including one there in spirit only but who refuses to judge the sanity either of his long-time patron Bun or his most recent guest Inspector Ho who tries talking to the empty chair where Bun’s wife would be sitting “just to see if would work.”

A real sense of claustrophobia is present throughout due not only to the two different scenes of live burial. Everything is contained but not controlled; close-ups and extreme close-ups bring us as nearer than we want to be to the characters; much of the movie takes place at night and several daytime scenes are filtered and foggy.

“Mad Detective” has a lot of very talented artists who don’t quite bring things off.