(Cantonese dialogue) An Edko Films (in Hong Kong)/Beijing Polybona Film Distribution Co. (in China) release of a Sil-Metropole Organization (Hong Kong)/Bona Entertainment Co., Shanghai EE-Media Co., Xi’an Qujiang Film & TV Investment Group (China)/Neo Studios (Singapore) presentation of a Pop Movies, Film Unlimited production. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, H.K.) Produced by Derek Yee, Henry Fong. Executive producers, Song Dai, Yu Dong, Zhang Yong, Wang Jianjun, Jack Neo. Executive in charge of production, Huang Bin. Directed, written by Alan Mak, Felix Chong.
With: Lau Ching-wan, Louis Koo, Daniel Wu, Zhang Jingchu, Alex Fong, Michael Wong, Lam Kar-wah, Waise Lee, William Chan, Stephen Au, Sharon Luk, Queenie Chu, Henry Fong, Lok Ying-kwan, Yeung Ling, Matt Chow, Yuen Fu-wan, Geoff Wong.
By DEREK ELLEY
After last year’s wishy-washy “Lady Cop and Papa Crook,” Hong Kong writing-helming duo Alan Mak and Felix Chong — two of the key creatives behind “Infernal Affairs” — power back with the bent-cops crimer “Overheard.” Quality casting down the line and a script that manages some characterization between its twists and turns make for an entertaining package that’s flawed only by a lack of sustained tension in the direction. Summer release did well in both Hong Kong and China, though in Western markets it’s largely an ancillary item.
First seen clandestinely bugging the offices of Fung Wah share-trading company, Leung (Lau Ching-wan), Yeung (Louis Koo) and Lam (Daniel Wu) are members of the Commercial Crime Bureau, currently involved in a big surveillance op monitoring suspected price fixing.
Screenplay rapidly sketches the friendships, tensions and family backgrounds within the surveillance team, housed in a chaotic temporary office, full of tech equipment and clothing, that’s staffed in shifts around the clock. All the main characters are flawed in some way: Lam is about to marry the daughter of a rich guy (actor-producer Henry Fong), with whom he’s not too comfortable, and Yeung has a young son with cancer, putting a strain on his marriage.
Of the three, Leung has seniority, and he’s the only one able to get on with their irascible boss, old pal Lee Kwong (Alex Fong). But unbeknownst to Lee, Leung is seeing his estranged wife, Yam (mainland Chinese thesp Zhang Jingchu), adding a layer of guilt beneath his seemingly easygoing exterior.
When, one night, Lam and Yeung overhear Fung Wah slimeball exec Lo (Waise Lee) giving a shares tip to his secretary (Queenie Chu), they wipe the evidence from the records and decide to make a quick killing themselves. Leung subsequently gets involved, against his better judgment, and the whole affair turns very deadly when China’s Securities Commission investigates the team, and corrupt tycoon Ma (Michael Wong, hammy) wants their heads on a platter.
Pic is strongest during its first act, as the characters swim into focus, eavesdropping for fun on workmates (William Chan, Sharon Luk) with their surveillance equipment, and prove almost as mistrustful of each other as they are of their quarry. Second act, which only makes sense in such a money-obsessed environment as Hong Kong, is less atmospheric, and the finale, though entertaining, is the least original part, relying on pure Hong Kong action devices.
Lau, as the grizzled heart of the movie, impressively shades in his character, but it’s Koo, who’s started to broaden his roles beyond tanned beefcake, who’s the biggest surprise. Tech contributions are pro, without being either glossy or grungy.
Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Anthony Pun; editors, Kong Chi-leung, Chan Chi-wai; music, Chan Kwong-wing; art director, Man Lim-chung; sound designers (Dolby Digital), Nip Kei-wing, Phyllis Cheng; visual effects supervisors, Lim Hung-fung, Yee Kwok-leung, Lai Man-chun; assistant director, Lanbo [cq] Cheuk. Reviewed on DVD, London, Nov. 6, 2009. (In Hawaii Film Festival — Hong Kong Cinema.) Running time: 101 MIN.