“Confession of Pain” is the new, much hyped thriller from dynamic directing duo Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, best known for their work on the “Infernal Affairs” series. Unfortunately, the film has not fared too well at the hands of critics, though arguably this has been down not only to overly high hopes, but to the fact that the film, shrouded in secrecy for most of its production, had a great deal of its plot revealed before release, either through the press or though its cast, with actress Xu Jinglei annoyingly letting slip vital details regarding her character. Thankfully, the film remains highly enjoyable even for viewers forearmed with knowledge of its various twists and turns, and although uneven, it certainly provides enough in the way of thrills, spills and unlikely laughs to grab the attention.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the basic set up sees Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Hei, a top Hong Kong policeman soon to be married to Susan (Xu Jinglei), and Takeshi Kaneshiro as Bong, Hei’s ex-colleague who has fallen into an alcoholic stupor following the suicide of his girlfriend some years back. After Susan’s father and his servant are brutally murdered, and she begins to see a stalker lurking in the shadows, she hires Bong to investigate, presumably due to some sense of loyalty rather than any display of competence on his part. As Hei stands around looking suspicious, Bong gradually draws nearer to solving the crime, one drink at a time. Needless to say, tragedy ensues.
Part of the problem with “Confession of Pain” is the fact that Lau and Mak have quite obviously aimed for a mass-appeal blockbuster, incorporating romance, action, mystery and comedy, and as a result the film ends up somewhere in the middle, neither one thing nor the other. Although the central mystery itself is engaging, it never really works to generate much tension, mainly due to the fact that even aside from any pre-release revelations, its twists are glaringly obvious from the start.
Thankfully, since Lau and Mak hedge their bets and at least attempt to add a few extra layers of complexity through a variety of character-driven subplots, this doesn’t detract from things too much, and the film is still gripping, albeit in a rather pedestrian fashion. In fact, with so much going on, and with the plot developing in sudden, often illogical bursts, the film comes to resemble not the soul searching drama it seems to pride itself in being, but a faintly ludicrous, though highly entertaining soap opera.
The film’s tone also veers around quite wildly, from bleak nihilism to slapstick comedy, with Chapman To’s wacky policeman (who may as well have ‘kick me’ written on his back) and Shu Qi’s daft, bubble-headed beer girl, who seems to have been written into the script solely for the convenience of always being in bars when Kaneshiro is drunk and needs to either flirt or moan. It is Kaneshiro’s character that provides the film with its funniest moments, and arguably sums up the directors’ approach to the subject matter, with Bong being a classic film-drunk who somehow manages to spend the entire running time pouring booze down his throat without seeming to suffer any ill effects. This case in point being a great scene where Bong engages in an acrobatic chase with a suspect after having consumed a vast quantity of hard liquor. Bravo, sir!
Despite such amusements, Lau and Mak seem to be harbouring the impression that “Confession of Pain” is a deeply profound and emotional affair, throwing in a great many shots of people starring glumly into the neon night, and building to a climax which practically begs the viewer to shed a tear or two, though with little success. Again, although this uncertain feel does make the proceedings rather chaotic, if anything the film is the better for it, and once the viewer realise that the kind of po-faced pondering that might have been expected is not going to emerge, the mix of laughs and tears work surprisingly well.
Holding “Confession of Pain” together is Lau and Mak’s slick direction, which is tight if unspectacular throughout. Although they do drop the ball during a couple of scenes, and add in a few too many flashbacks for comfort (most of which involve the central murder being replayed from a variety of angles, even after the identity of the killer has been revealed), the film generally moves along at a brisk pace, with a few good action scenes and some startlingly brutal moments of violence being inserted to keep things lively. All of this gives the film the kind of glossy, blockbuster sheen which the duo were no doubt aiming for, though “Confession of Pain” would have benefited from a more gritty air which would perhaps have made its darker aspects more believable.
Still, even with such criticisms, “Confession of Pain” remains a solid thriller which makes up in laughs and overwrought emotions what it lacks in originality and coherence. Whilst some may berate Lau and Mak for pushing the film so determinedly into commercial territory, it could be argued that the results are far more fun, and indeed more entertaining than they would have been if the film had been played solely for artful doom and gloom. Certainly, the film is far better than the majority of similar Hong Kong productions, and with its undeniable air of quality and all-star cast, at the very least deserves to win recognition as an endearingly trashy pleasure rather than as a serious commentary on the human condition.
Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak (director) / Felix Chong (screenplay)
CAST: Takeshi Kaneshiro …. Bong
Tony Leung Chiu Wai …. Detective Hei
Qi Shu …. Feng
Chapman To …. Tsui Wing-kwong
Emme Wong …. Rachel
Jinglei Xu …. Susan