Mad Detective (神探) Made in: Hong Kong Language: Cantonese Directors: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai Starring: Lau Ching-Wan, Andy On, Lam Ka-Tung, Kelly Lin, Lau Kam-Ling, Lam Suet, Lee Kwok-Lun, Karen Lee Year: 2007
Synopsis: Detective Bun (Lau Ching-Wan) is a brilliant Hong Kong police officer with the uncanny ability to profile criminal minds. His unconventional talent has made him a legend on the force, but comes at a steep price.
Bun can discern the inner personality of anyone he meets, and the amazing thing is that the other person's inner personality, or "true self," manifests itself as a separate person that only Bun can see. Some consider it schizophrenia, others call it a gift.
Bun is also followed by the persistent hallucination of his ex-wife (Kelly Lin). She often acts as his conscience, and in a strange way, helps keep him sane. Sort of.
The trouble begins when Detective Wong (Lee Kwok-Lun), a veteran cop, mysteriously disappears one night while pursuing a suspect in the woods. Ten months later, Wong's disappearance still hasn't been solved. However, his gun has been linked to a series of violent crimes.
Trying to solve the Wong case is Inspector Ho (Andy On), a rookie who admires the mentally unstable Bun (who has since left the force for obvious medical reasons). Bun reluctantly takes on the case with Ho, and immediately begins to suspect that Wong's partner, Detective Ko Chi-Wai (Lam Ka-Tung), is hiding something about Wong's disappearance.
Bun's remarkable ability reveals that Ko Chi-Wai is a man with seven separate personalities! In Bun's mind, they follow Ko around like an eerie entourage. The dominant one appears to be a cool, calculating businesswoman (Lau Kam-Ling). Ko also takes advice from another one of his personalities, which appears as a cowardly glutton (Lam Suet).
As they get closer to the truth, Bun's erratic behavior makes it harder to determine if he's really on the cusp of solving the case or if he has truly gone insane.
The Good: The underlying premise is great. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai do a very good job of visually presenting the way things look through Bun's eyes, and the idea of Bun's multi-personality nemesis is quite original.
The psychological aspect of the story is strong in many parts, and the plot development is pretty interesting. Lau Ching-Wan, who has collaborated with Johnnie To several times in the past, plays his role very well and keeps us guessing as to whether or not Bun is on to something (or if he's simply on some sort of strange, Quixotic quest).
Best of allMad Detective utilizes the "crazy-in-the-head" aspect only as a device within an actual, tangible story. Disappointing films such as Shutter Island, Kontroll, and Revolver, on the other hand, make the "crazy-in-the-head" theme into the story itself. Mad Detective does not manipulate the audience and there is a concrete conclusion to everything that's happening.
The Bad: However, Mad Detective is not without its flaws. The stage is set for Bun to take on Ko Chi-Wai's seven unique personalities. Unfortunately, we only get to know two of them. I heard they were each supposed to represent one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but that's never clearly presented. The other personalities pretty much just hang around and look creepy.
Andy On's character of Inspector Ho had some issues, too. Although his dark character shift is a bold and clever twist, it sort of comes out of nowhere. He's supposed to be the inexperienced rookie who gets in way over his head, but Andy On plays the role with too much maturity in order to make his character arc believable.
And finally, the story, although coherent, is a bit thin. Without giving too much away, let's just say that I find it doubtful that veteran police officers would go to such extreme lengths to cover their tracks...over accidentally losing a gun. I thought that Ko Chi-Wai should have been a far more dangerous person, and the plot should have focused more on Bun matching wits with each of the personalities.
Who would like this movie: You'll like Mad Detective if you're a fan of foreign films, Hong Kong action movies, and psychological thrillers in general.
There aren't any crazy shootouts, but the characters are interesting and the film itself is competently made, well paced, and well acted. There are a few plot holes here and there, but overall it's an original movie that should keep you interested.
Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai are good directors, and I'd like to see with what they come up with next.