Hong Kong real estate developer turned writer/producer/director Dennis Law returns with “The Constable”, with Simon Yam headlining as a cop dealing with the trials and tribulations of life as well as criminals. The film is somewhat of a departure for Law, and sees him attempting to step away from the schlock of his recent exploitation efforts like “Vampire Warriors”, “Womb Ghosts” and “Bad Blood”, aiming for a little more substance and character depth.
Simon Yam plays Lam Kwok Kuen, a veteran police vehicle squad commander who juggles his job with caring for his mentally challenged son, helped by a kindly young woman called Cheui Yan (Niu Meng Meng, “The Second Woman”). Though nearing retirement, Lam is still a force to be reckoned with, and all his younger colleagues look up to him for his law enforcement skills and strong sense of justice. Amongst other incidents and cases, trouble rears its head in the form of Cheui Yan’s shady boyfriend Chow Gong-Tong (Sam Lee, “The Incredible Truth”), who gets involved in a dangerous robbery scheme with gangster Dah Kim (Ken Lo, “The White Storm”).
“The Constable” basically sees Dennis Law trying the Milkyway route, mixing action and cop film genre themes with melodrama and a touch of semi-realism, as well as roping in a variety of Johnnie To regulars like Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung, Lo Hoi Pang and Maggie Sui. Of course, Law isn’t To or Wai Ka Fai, and so his stab at down to earth slice of life human interest doesn’t ring quite as true, mainly revolving around Lam Kwok Kuen being proven time and time again to be an exemplary and astonishingly decent member of society. Though there are a few other narrative strands here and there, including a possible romance between the young and good looking cops Kiu Mei (Zi Yi, “Blind Detective”) and Fa Fa (Maggie Li, “Mysterious Island”), it’s essentially a pretty plotless film, Law meandering between domestic and on the job incidents, with a few moments of social criticism thrown in for good measure. To be fair, the film is interesting enough to hold the attention, and with some effective and emotional moments here and there and a few reasonable twists along the way, it does mark a definite step up for Law in terms of substance and character writing.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Simon Yam’s film, the veteran star effortlessly dominating and managing to make Lam a likeable, if not terribly believable protagonist – at times, the film really does verge on parody in the way that Law treats him as a zen-like Jedi master, untroubled by pretty much anything and everything and able to whip out martial arts skills on demand. Yam is on great form, carrying the film throughout and giving the material a welcome boost, and even when things get particularly daft there are plenty of unintentional laughs to be had. There’s nothing pretentious here, and though rather preachy at times the film never pushes things too far – and even when it does, Yam is charismatic enough to make these moments of trite philosophising forgivable and amusing.
Law is gradually improving as a director with each film, and on a technical level “The Constable” is several notches above “Vampire Warriors” or “Womb Ghosts”. Though its pacing is variable there aren’t too many noticeable slumps, and the film for the most part moves along quite briskly, enjoying a more coherent air than most of his other works. The action scenes are handled with a similar competency, and while there’s nothing too thrilling on show there are a handful of solid set pieces and fight scenes. It also helps that the film never feels too cheap, and though neither particularly glossy nor gritty looking it benefits from some above average production values and an acceptable amount of visual flair.
There’s something vaguely old school about “The Constable” as a whole, harking back to 1990s Hong Kong cop cinema, and it’s definitely one of Dennis Law’s best efforts to date. This is largely due to the presence of Simon Yam, who makes the film and the title role utterly his own, and it’s a must-see for fans as a result.
Dennis Law (director) / Dennis Law (screenplay)
CAST: Simon Yam … Lam Kwok Kuen
Suet Lam … Ah Wai
Sam Lee … Chow Gong Hong
Mengmeng Niu … Cheui Yan
Maggie Siu … Hui Jeun