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D (2000)
Undercover Blues

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 12/12/2008

Undercover Blues is an apt name for this movie, since most every scene seems to be bathed in a sea of blue light. Taking more than a little cue from Johnnie To's classic gangster film The Mission, Undercover Blues uses a lot of flashy visuals. But, unlike To's masterpiece, once you peel back the facade of this picture, there's very little actual substance under the surface.

This movie mines the tried-and-true story of a undercover cop who gets in too deep. The cop in question is Joe (Daniel Wu), a promising young cadet who is selected to infiltrate the "family" of Spanner (Blacky Ko), one of the biggest drug runners in Asia.

Joe is good at his job -- too good -- and soon finds himself becoming one of Spanner's most trusted associates. It's up to Joe's captain, Frank (Ray Lui), to head over to Malaysia and try to pull Joe back into the "real" world.

Director Billy Chung has spent most of his career seemingly trying to become the next Wong Jing by piggybacking his productions off of a popular style of the time, whether it's Category III exploitation stuff like Love to Kill, nonsense comedies such as Kung Fu Mahjong, or girls-with-guns action-fests, as witnessed with the inventively titled Lady Supercop.

At this point in time, the "new wave" crime movies popularized by the output of Milkyway Films were gaining both local and international notoriety, so, not surprisingly, Undercover Blues apes many of the stylistic elements of those movies.

Undercover Blues does everything technically well, but nothing ever seems to really fire on all cylinders. Most of this feeling can really be placed squarely on the feet of Ray Lui. He's one of the most boring Hong Kong actors ever, and his sleep-walking excuse of a performance here does nothing to dispel that notion.

The other actors try to do what they can -- Simon Lui especially has a glimmer of hope as a cop who has already gone over the top and embraced the Triad lifestyle -- but given that they are basically aping cardboard cutouts of Triad drama caricatures, it's pretty much an exercise in futility to get the viewer to be fully invested in the characters and their possible fates.

Billy Chung does try to liven things with some good old-fashioned ultra-violence, most notably a scene where the film tries to outdo Reservoir Dogs via a torture scene where both ears are sliced off of a poor sap. The effort was appreciated by this reviewer, but the excitement effect of the claret wears off fairly quickly.

Perhaps if Undercover Blues had concentrated more on the naughty bits, it might have been a more notable movie. At least there would have been something more interesting to see than a bunch of B-list actors going through the motions of what most Hong Kong film viewers have seen many times before.

Still, there's nothing horribly wrong with this production, and it's probably worth a late-night viewing if you're fan of the genre, especially if you're not feeling particularly nit-picky.

[review from]

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 05/08/2004
Summary: above average despite actor/producer

Co-written by the seemingly omni-present actor Simon Loui, this low-budget thriller suffers from too much Ray Lui. Director Billy Chung does the best he can with limited resources and a big ego movie star as producer. Daniel Wu gets star billing but is hardly in the film. Simon Loui wrote his own, very beefy role to which he brings his usual energy. Chapman To shines in his supporting role. The film is only about 75 minutes long, so you might feel cheated. Despite Ray Lui's leaden acting, this is above average.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 05/27/2001
Summary: Disappointing

UNDERCOVER BLUES - Very disappointing, after having read reviews comparing it to The Mission. Certainly it was an influence, but they seem to have forgotten to include any of the wit or style that made The Mission such a great film. Very ropey. Interesting to see Simon Lui play a bald headed hard-man, but I have to conclude he's a bit of an idiot since he cowrote the script. Daniel Wu is in the film for about 3 minutes, btw.

Reviewer Score: 3

Reviewed by: MilesC
Date: 03/06/2001
Summary: Surprisingly decent low-budget movie.

Johnnie To's The Mission made far too little money to influence the direction of big-budget HK movies, but its influence is apparent in several recent low-budget thrillers. And it shouldn't come as any surprise... The Mission's creative minimalism is a perfect fit for a low budget. Undercover Blues "borrows" The Mission's cool blue and green tones, its realistic approach to gunfights and the tactics employed, and, most blatantly, the memorable mall standoff. Chung doesn't just steal, though; it appears he's actually learned something. The direction and cinematography here are generally solid, even above average at times, which is much better than can be said for Chung's clumsy-looking "Killer."

Unfortunately, Chung isn't half as subtle a filmmaker as To. The movie's generic "points" are all played out in voiceovers and transparent conversations; no "show don't tell" here. The plot, however, while simple, is not a rehash of the same old triad cliches. Ray Lui and company are undercover cops, sent to Malaysia to find undercover Joe, (Daniel Wu) who's been out of contact with his superiors in HK. This minimal setup works reasonably well... Unfortunately, the plot is padded with relatively unobtrusive- but still pointless- relationship problems. Ray Lui's lost bar hostess love in particular takes up a lot of running time without serving much purpose.

Despite the padding, things don't drag much, and at a running time of under 75 minutes it hardly overstays its welcome. Though it tries very hard to be deep and clever, Undercover Blues is too simple-minded a movie to fully recommend. Still, it is a remarkable step up for the generally schlocky Billy Chung, and much better than I had any reason to expect.