Originally released back in 1979, “Cops and Robbers” marked the debut of Hong Kong New Wave director Alex Cheung, who went on to helm other thrillers such as “Man on the Brink” and “Danger Has Two Faces”. A tough slice of police drama that was a big winner at the box office, the film was produced by rocker Teddy Robin, who also turns up in the film to sing a couple of songs about righteousness, and whose title track was a popular chart hit.
After a rather unnecessary prologue of young children playing at, funnily enough, cops and robbers, the film gets down to business as the viewer is introduced to sergeant Chan Lap Kei (Wong Chung, a minor Shaw Brothers actor who also starred in and directed a number of police thrillers in the 1980s such as “Mobfix Patrol” and “Cop of the Town”). Aptly nicknamed ‘Dirty Happy’ for his tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, his exasperated superior Chow (Kam Hing Yin) assigns him fresh-faced rookie ‘Pretty Boy’ Wing (Cheung Kwok Keung, recently in “The Pye-Dog”). They and the rest of Kei’s team succeed in bringing down a gang of vicious robbers, though unfortunately their leader Biu (Hui Bing Sam) escapes and starts a murderous campaign of revenge, targeting not only the cops but also their families.
By mixing melodrama with bloody bullet battles, “Cops and Robbers” serves as an interesting precursor to the later heroic bloodshed films of the 1980s, having had an obvious influence on the films of John Woo, Ringo Lam and others. Focusing on themes of brotherhood and justice, director Cheung manages to effectively build up his characters and their various relationships without ever slowing down the pace or sacrificing explosive action, of which there is plenty. The time getting to know both the cops and the robbers proves to be well spent, as it adds a definite edge during the last half hour or so when the marvellously creepy cross eyed Biu embarks on his psychotic rampage – not least since he stands as one of the best movie maniacs of the period, gradually becoming more and more crazed and violent.
Since the viewer has actually come to care for the characters it comes as a real shock when they start getting bumped off in brutal fashion, and though the outcome is basically predictable Cheung certainly pulls no punches. As a result, the film makes for gripping viewing and keeps the interest right through to the visceral and hard-hitting climax. Even the blatantly gratuitous song break, in which the cops go to a bar to see Robin perform, works pretty well in the context, serving nicely to underscore the all men are brothers type theme.
Cheung’s direction is excellent throughout, and he gives the film a gritty look, bringing the streets and back alleys of Hong Kong to convincing life. Although stylish the film is never distractingly flashy, relying instead on some tight editing and innovative camera work to keep the action scenes intense. The film is full-blooded affair, with plenty of gory gun battles, choppings and nasty murders during the latter stages, and this further adds to the hardboiled feel. This will likely come as a relief for viewers left wanting more by the rather anaemic cop thrillers of recent years, and the film certainly delivers in terms of old school thrills.
This really sums up the appeal of a film like “Cops and Robbers”, and it has not only stood the test of time, but actually compares favourably with the vast majority of modern genre efforts. Whether as a piece of Hong Kong New Wave cinema history or simply as an entertaining and exciting thriller, it is long overdue for rediscovery and will certainly be enjoyed by action fans
Gwok-Ming Cheung (director) / Kiu-Ying Chan, Gwok-Ming Cheung, Teddy Robin Kwan (screenplay)
CAST: Kwok Keung Cheung
Hing Ying Kam