Expect the Unexpected (1998) Movie Review

Movies like Patrick Yau’s Expect the Unexpected needs to be seen to be believed, because it’s so good and yet so, so bad. Is such a thing even possible, you ask? Yes, Virginia, it is. Expect the Unexpected is a movie that looks like a TV show trying to fake its way into being a low-budget cinematic police drama that feels like a TV cop series. Understand? No? Read on.

Expect the Unexpected stars Simon Yam as Ken, the stoic and serious boss of an elite squad of Detectives in the Hong Kong police department. Among Ken’s men is Sam (Ching Wan Lau), Ken’s off-the-cuff and carefree younger brother; the eager to please Macy (Ruby Wong), who may have a crush on her boss; and the gritty veteran Collins (Suet Lam).

The film opens with the robbery of a jewelry store that goes awry; the thieves are incompetent and manage to split up as soon as a single uniform street cop appears. One of the thieves take refuge in an apartment building where another separate gang of criminals is hiding out for their own nefarious purposes. When the second trio of criminals are exposed, they flee, but not before mowing down a dozen cops in the street. Now Ken’s squad has to deal with two sets of criminals: one incompetent and desperate, and the other deadly, well armed, and well thought-out. And then…

No, no, I’m not going to tell you anything else about the movie, suffice it to say that Expect the Unexpected is, as the title suggests, quite an unexpected film. The movie is unpredictable in every fiber of its being and I suspect this was the intention of the filmmakers. Everything is presented as being completely cliched and by-the-numbers, but it’s all a trick. There is a love triangle that just gets all twisted and turned upside down, and every decision made by the characters are (and I hesitate to use this word again, since using it too much might dull its impact, but…) unexpected.

The chase for the criminals is somewhat boring and tedious, but they eventually culminate in two separate shootouts, both of which left me flabbergasted that I couldn’t predict the outcome of neither, despite my earlier thoughts that this movie was silly and highly predictable. The film’s writers planned a movie that would offer all the conventions of every conceivable genre, only to turn it all upside down at the last possible moment. Every little subplot in the movie fools you into thinking A is going to happen only to throw B at you, with the possibility of C hiding somewhere around the corner.

This film is unpredictable.

The acting in Expect the Unexpected is above average. Simon Yam turns in a subdued but appropriately serious performance as the cop who is responsible for a whole squad. Ching Wan Lau’s Sam is amusingly loose in every respects and yet worries about the disapproval of his boss/brother. The rest of the cast also fares well, including Suet Lam as Collins, a cop with a 40-year old wife and a younger mistress, and he can’t quite figure out which one to ditch and which one to keep.

The movie’s love triangle shows up in the form of Mandy (YoYo Mung), who is probably the movie’s weakest thespian. She’s a pretty face, but not much else, which makes the movie’s middle, which involves Sam and Ken and Mandy — well, it’s all very soap opera-ish, which is not a good thing.

And then there is Expect the Unexpected’s biggest disappointment: the soundtrack. I cannot think of a worst soundtrack for a film. Any film. Expect the Unexpected employs instrumentals for its soundtrack that plays over every single scene, no matter how minor or inconsequential that scene. After a while, I just wanted to scream whenever the music came on. What makes it even worst is that the instrumentals are so morbidly average and stunningly inappropriate that you wonder how worst it could possibly get.

Putting aside the horrendous soundtrack that would be my suicide anthem if I should desire one, Expect the Unexpected is a hell of a fun ride, and it is perhaps the movie with the most apt title I’ve encountered. I only wish it came with an alternate soundtrack…

Patrick Yau (director) / Yin Han Chow, Kam-Yuen Szeto, Nai-Hoi Yau (screenplay)
CAST: Simon Yam …. Ken
Ching Wan Lau …. Sam
YoYo Mung …. Mandy
Ruby Wong …. Macy
Suet Lam …. Collins

Buy Expect the Unexpected on DVD