"Detective, do you have a delerium?"
TAM, a seriously nearsighted private detective barely scratching out a living in Thailand is haunted by the disappearance of his parents when he was a child and his rejection by the Police Academy, in The Detective, a 2007 Hong Kong flick brought to you by by the notorious Pang Brothers (The Eye, Bangkok Dangerous).
Sure, the off-kilter plot's a little hard to follow at times, the subtitles are sort of hit-and-miss (although sometimes unintentionally hilarious) and the supernatural elements are superfluous, really, but this is a great little film, full of nice twists (Tam keeps his gun in an old movie film cannister), some nifty camera work and tight editing, great local color, some intriguing characters and at least a couple of scenes I guarantee you haven't seen before. I was pleasantly surprised.
Aaron Kwok gives a great performance as the slightly dorky P.I. with dubious manners, all twitchy sweat, bumbling earnestness and jaunty would-be cool. Even the background music, a discordant blend of spaghetti western, blaxploitation funk and a hint of traditional Asian instrumentation, draws you in. And Tam's habit of snapping everything with his digital camera to study later to compensate for his poor vision is a clever dodge both as plot device and metaphor.
It all kicks off with Tam sitting in his suitably rundown, cluttered rat's nest of an office. His stressed out pal Lung staggers in, eyes almost popping out of his head, wanting him to track down a young woman, Sum, who he says is trying to kill him. He gives Tam a photo of Sum, and not a whole lot more.
Tam, who's more used to trailing cheating spouses and nabbing minor criminals, is clearly out of his league, but he takes the case anyway. And then it gets weird. Nobody -- including her plas who meet regularly at a local store to play mahjong -- seems to have seen Sum in a while. Soon enough, the dead bodies start popping up, many of them apparent suicides, and the tension and paranoia builds, as various P.I. tropes are trotted out: femme fatales, red herrings, car chases and shootouts. There's even a cop buddy, Chak, on hand who is more than happy to point out that Tam's not as smart as he thinks he is, and keeps warning him to leave the matter to the police.
All in all, a pleasant surprise. There's even been a sequel, the imaginately titled (at least in English) The Detective II, although I haven't caught it yet. In fact, the Cantonese title of the original film is far more clever. It translates as "C+ Detective", which is also Cantonese wordplay for "Private Detective" but given the bumbling charm of Tam, it's a pretty good title in English too.
Tam must be getting better. In the sequel, the Cantonese title is B+Detective.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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