Monday, January 18, 2016

Detective Chinatown

My original plan for this movie was to see it as a cross-town double feature with Band of Robbers on Friday, which would have been kind of fitting, as both are buddy capers that work out a lot better than I might have expected. In the case of the former, it was a matter of guys I don't know messing with beloved characters, while this movie had a trailer that made it look a lot more frantic and ridiculous than it actually was.

Don't get me wrong, it's plenty frantic and ridiculous, but it was also one of those China Lion trailers that shows just how much they are indifferent to any audience other than the expatriates and immigrants, as it was filed with untranslated text and freeze-frames on actors and their names, which is clearly not going to mean a whole lot to those of us who aren't terribly familiar with these people because we don't have entertainment blogs and magazines and stuff reminding us of who's dating who or ads with them on a regular basis. I know Wang Baoqiang's name, but I'm not going to recognize it in Chinese characters or seeing him in-character, and I'm a bit of an anomaly if these previews are showing in front of anything other than other Chinese movies.

But, of course, it was too popular for me to get tickets when arriving there after taking the train from Alewife, especially since its length (135 minutes is kind of long for this sort of mystery/comedy) meant it was starting at kind of weird times. Saturday was right out because there was other stuff playing at fairly fixed times that I wanted to see, so that left Sunday evening - when it was still busy enough to push me to the second row, which is really too close for some scenes.

I'm wondering just how crazy this weekend is going to be for Chinese films - will Monster Hunt get big crowds because it was a giant hit in China or nothing because that was five months ago and the pirates are usually much faster than that (and how do 3D and English-language versions that are supposedly in play change the math)? Will Mike Tyson and local guy Donnie Yen bring more folks to Ip Man 3 despite it playing a month ago in Hong Kong, or is there a real preference for Mandarin-language movies (other recent Hong Kong/Cantonese flicks have been much quieter locally than their Mainland counterparts)? How does Wanda owning AMC fit in, in terms of working to drive folks to their movies at their theaters rather than others?

Not that those things really matter; the bottom line is that this particular movie is fairly enjoyable, and worth recommending if you like the genre, though I don't know if it will stick around this weekend's influx of big Chinese movies.

Tang ren jie tan an (aka Detective Chinatown)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2016 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

Detective Chinatown inevitably runs head-on into the biggest problem screwball mysteries face - it is extremely difficult to take both your slapstick comedy and murder investigation seriously in the same story - but manages to be impressively entertaining on the way. It's got some issues, but it's a good buddy comedy whose maker seems to like the mystery elements more than most.

It starts by introducing the audience to Qin Feng (Liu Haoran), a young man whose application to the police academy in Shanghai is denied when he appears to choke during his final interview. The grandmother who raised him suggests a week in Bangkok, where he can observe his third cousin twice removed Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang), supposedly a top detective in the city's Chinatown, but actually a low-rent P.I./con artist more interested in playing Mahjongg and peeping on his pretty landlord Xiang (Tong Liya) than solving cases. He may not have much choice but to get to the bottom of a mystery when he's implicated in both the theft of 100kg of gold and the murder of one of the crew members involved, with two police detectives ("Michael" Chen He & Xiao Yang) vying to catch Yang first and secure a promotion.

Wang Baoqiang became one of China's biggest stars on the strength of characters much like Tang Ren, although that sort of frantic dim-bulb character can become irritating when promoted to a lead role. That makes seeing this one up as a buddy comedy a good idea, as Liu Haoran's depressive, stammering, upright Qin Feng is an obvious counter to Wang's frantic Tang. Liu gives Wang room to mug and be wacky until it's time to do the Sherlock Holmes stuff, rolling his eyes on the audiences behalf. They arguably split "protagonist" and "star" duties, giving the movie a nice sort of back-and-forth energy so that writer/director Chen Sicheng can give a good chunk of time to both the comedy and mystery parts of the film without anything feeling shortchanged or the whole thing being stretched.

Full review on EFC.

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