“Lady Cop and Papa Crook” is a film which has attracted publicity for all the wrong reasons, having been delayed after a battle with the notoriously strict Chinese censors. This is a shame, and it is great to see the film finally emerge, as it offers fans of Hong Kong cinema plenty to get excited about, marking as it does the return to screens of popular singer-actress Sammi Cheng in her first role since 2005’s less than successful “Everlasting Regret”.
Here, she teams with another A-list talent in the form of Eason Chan (who recently impressed in low-key gangster drama “The Pye-Dog”) along with a whole host of notable co-stars including the likes of Chapman To (“Trivial Matters”), Patrick Tam (best known for his role in the excellent “Beast Cops”) and Mainland actor Zhang Guoli (“Telephone 601”). The film was co-written and directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong of “Infernal Affairs” and “Confession of Pain” fame, adding to its considerable pedigree.
The film follows Chan as John Fok, a somewhat jaded gang boss involved in smuggling petrol from the Mainland to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, his business is threatened after a police operation results in a fatal accident and the loss of his goods. Before he can react and try to deal with the situation, his young son is kidnapped, forcing him to bring in the police. Enter Cheng as Inspector Maureen Szeto, a woman with problems of her own, the most pressing of which is the fact that her long-time boyfriend seems unwilling to marry her and may be carrying on an affair. She and Fok are soon butting heads over the case, with their various men at each other’s throats, something they have to find a way to solve if they are ever going to rescue his son.
There’s no denying that “Lady Cop and Papa Crook” is a somewhat chaotic affair, jumping as it does between domestic farce, kidnapping drama and hard edged triad action. Still, this is pretty much par for the course when it comes to Hong Kong cinema, and although the plot is a little confusing in places, the film is arguably none the worse from it. It’s worth noting that the DVD features the longer director’s cut, which does go some way to readdressing the disorienting cuts made by the censors, and which comes with an alternate and far more satisfying ending. The film to an extent defies expectations, both in that it refuses to play out as a straight crime caper and in that the relationship between Cheng and Chan’s characters never blossoms into romance, developing from distrust to grudging acceptance. Instead the film concentrates on some intriguing themes, such as the co-operation between the police and the triads, and tries to show the different sides learning from each other, in particular Chan’s gang boss who grows somewhat as a person in the process. These aspects of the film, along with a subtle theme of Mainland police incompetence, although perhaps somewhat diluted by the censors, who were no doubt aghast at the prospect of sympathetic police and gang relations, help to make it stand out from the crowd and to lend the proceedings a certain thoughtfulness.
Playing off against such concerns is the film’s wacky vein of humour, which mainly revolves around Cheng and her relationship worries. Fans of the actress will be pleased to hear that the film sees her return to the kind of cute aggressive persona she became known for, and spends most of the film nagging or pouting, generally to amusing effect. These and the other slapstick gags are somewhat at odds with some of the film’s more brutal and violent moments, but work well to keep the viewer entertained, if a little bewildered at times. As such, the film is more “Confession of Pain” than “Infernal Affairs”, though the lack of coherence does not prevent the viewer from being engaged, if in the plot and themes more so than in the characters themselves. Things come together towards the end when the comedy drops into the background, making for a suitably tense finale. Mak and Chong’s direction is tight throughout, with some inventive editing and stylish visuals that help to give the film a big budget, glossy sheen.
As such, “Lady Cop and Papa Crook” certainly delivers as an enjoyable slice of popcorn entertainment, especially for fans of Sammi Cheng. Although somewhat uneven, it benefits from taking a less obvious path, and is arguably all the better for being less straightforward than might have been expected.
Felix Chong, Siu Fai Mak (director) / Felix Chong, Siu Fai Mak (screenplay)
CAST: Sammi Cheng … Senior Inspector Maureen Szeto Mo Lin
Eason Chan … John Fok
Bo-yuan Chan … Horace
Convoy Chan Chi-Chung … Michael
Stephanie Che … Vivian
Emotion Cheung … Lin Jian
Tung Cho ‘Joe’ Cheung … Uncle Wing