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The biggest, most hyped and eagerly awaited Hong Kong thriller of the year arrives in the form of “Cold War”, written and directed by first-timers Longman Leung and Sunny Luk. Backed by a massive marketing campaign clearly trying to position it as the new “Infernal Affairs”, the police corruption film is certainly an ambitious affair, with an amazing cast of top stars headlined by Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka Fai, supported by the likes of Eddie Peng (“Tai Chi”), Aarif Lee (“Bruce Lee, My Brother”), Gordon Lam (“Motorway”) and Charlie Young (“Floating City”), with Michael Wong and the immortal Andy Lau on hand for cameo appearances. The effort seems to have paid off, with the film emerging as the biggest Hong Kong money maker of 2012, in addition to having been nominated for a long list of gongs at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
The film kicks off with the mysterious theft of an Emergency Unit police van and the kidnapping of the officers on board, a shocking crime which flies in the face of Hong Kong being known as the safest city in Asia and which was carried out despite the police force’s sophisticated surveillance and tracking technology. With his son (Eddie Peng) being one of the hostages, Deputy Commissioner M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai) takes charge of the investigation, codenamed ‘Cold War’, though is soon butting heads with fellow deputy Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok). After Lee fails to solve the case quickly, Lau steps in and takes over, accusing him of being emotionally compromised due to the involvement of his son. However, Lau similarly fails, his attempt to pay off the kidnappers’ ransom demands resulting in the loss of over $50 million. With it seeming like there might be a mole in the department, the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) step in, young investigator Billy Cheung (Aarif Lee) receiving anonymous tipoffs that Lee and Lau are hiding something behind their professional facades.
It’s immediately clear that “Infernal Affairs” comparisons are entirely apt, as “Cold War” aims for the same kind of multi-layered plotting and scheming, with its large cast of characters all having their own motivations and hidden agendas. Sharing similar themes of corruption in the police force and the thin dividing line between upholding the law and acting criminally, the film also resembles the third “Infernal Affairs” pretty closely, with the same focus on departmental politics, internal investigations, and shifting allegiances. This is all well and good, since “Cold War” has enough idea of its own to differentiate it, and though at times somewhat wrapped up in its own importance and jingoism, it offers a gripping and pleasingly intelligent story as well as a convincing and grounded bit of police procedural. Though the final wrap up is a perhaps a little limp and preachy (leaving things open for the possibility of a not unwelcome sequel), Longman Leung and Sunny Luk also earn points for generally sticking to their guns, the film feeling more like an authentically Hong Kong thriller than other recent more Mainland-pandering genre efforts.
Given the heavy-hitting cast, the film is unsurprisingly very much an actors’ affair, being quite dialogue focused and cramming in lots of scenes of shouting and intense staring. Certainly, Leung and Luk rely to a large extent during the first half on Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung to generate tension and drama through their rivalry, and so it’s just as well that the two are on great form, the latter in particular having a great time chewing the scenery. The rest of the cast are also solid, and the attention that the script pays to the supporting characters is very rewarding, helping the film to rise above being too much of a star vehicle. Even Michael Wong and Andy Lau fit in, and despite basically playing themselves, their appearances add to the overall entertainment value and don’t stand out as much as might be feared.
Though predominantly revolving around suspense and power struggles, the film does pack in a fair amount of action, with some very well handled large scale set pieces that show much better use of special effects than many other recent Hong Kong thrillers. The action choreography by Chin Ka Lok (who has worked on an impressive list of recent films including “Motorway”, “The Viral Factor”, “Triple Tap” and more) is top notch, and this helps to keep things moving at a fast pace, some nicely-timed explosions and shoot outs providing respite from the non-stop confrontations and shouting matches. The film is very well directed in general, Leung and Luk doing a great and incredibly assured job, managing to pack in plenty of eye-catching visuals and style, boosted by the excellent production values provided by what must have been a considerable budget.
All of this is more than enough to justify “Cold War” as being the Hong Kong event film of the last year, and one of its more accomplished thrillers for some time, Longman Leung and Sunny Luk making a real impact with their debut feature. Though undeniably a bit overblown and over-convinced of its own importance, the film shows a rare mix of intelligence and thrills, and whether or not it stands the test of time like “Infernal Affairs”, it’s definitely the closest thing audiences are likely to see for now.
Lok Man Leung, Kim-ching Luk (director) / Lok Man Leung, Kim-ching Luk (screenplay)
CAST: Aaron Kwok … Sean Lau
Tony Leung Ka Fai … M.B. Waise Lee
Andy Lau … Philip Luk
Charlie Yeung … Phoenix Leung
Lam Ka Tung Gordon … Albert Kwong
Kar Lok Chin … Vincent Tsui
Andy On … Michael Shek
Terence Yin … Man To