The Blind Detective (2013)

As a long time fan of Hong Kong Film director Johnnie To, I was pleased when I read of his latest film, The Blind Detective, before leaving for a trip to Hong Kong at the very end of October. Sadly, I was unable to purchase the DVD at any of the bigger retail stores in Hong Kong, as every where I looked for the DVD, they were all sold out.

When I returned home, I was able to  track down the DVD on Ebay. I ordered it, and received it, and was eager to see it. This is the fourth pairing of the films stars – Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng – as the stars in a Johnnie To production. At one time, early in the last decade, Andy and Sammi were the reigning King and Queen of the Hong Kong movie industry.

Beginning with Needing You (2000), Love on a Diet (2001), then Yesterday Once More (2004), this twosome was as bankable as any two screen actors working together at the time. While not quite on a par with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn – Lau and Cheng sold many tickets together.

The Blind Detective reunites them as the working stars in a Johnnie To film. And the results are that this is a mixed bag. Some of it is excellent driven by the remarkable on-screen chemistry of Cheng and Lau. That’s the rom com part.

Then there’s the police procedural part which is driven mostly by Lau’s now blind, and now retired as an official police detective, who is surprisingly named Johnston, recreating crime scenes from the police reports, and his imagination; and also with Cheng’s (who is a police woman named Ho) physical assistance.

Johnston is in it for the cold case reward money which is how he makes a living these days. Ho is in it because she has a missing person case of her own, her friend Minnie had gone missing years back, and Ho, seeing Johnston in action wants to learn from him and possibly use him to help find Minnie.

But wait – there’s more.

Let’s add in the fact that Lau’s Johnston is a foodie. As we have seen before in these Lau-Cheng-To films – eating and drinking to excess is to be expected. On screen nausea is something you can bank on; it is anything but the unexpected. By the way – if you get a chance, have a look at a great Johnnie To cop film was called Expect the Unexpected. It came out in 1998. But back to our film – so don’t be surprised when each of the leads has a ‘puke’ scene.

There was one very funny scene. After Ho had to put Johnston up at her apartment because he had drunk to excess the night before. He awakens the next morning needing to piss badly. After stumbling around the unfamiliar apartment – yes, there’s plenty of that ‘blind man tripping and falling humor’ in the film – Johnston stumbles into Ho’s bathroom where she is having a nice bubble bath. She’s shrieking.

Ho: Get out! I’m taking bath! Get Out! I’m in the bathtub! 

Johnston: (also shrieking) – I have to pee! Where is the toilet?

Ho: Over there. At your nine o’clock.

Johnston (finds it and relieves himself): Relax, I am blind. Can’t see a thing!

Ho: But I’m not blind!

There’s violence of course. All of To’s cop films have violence, and often, as is the case in this one, it is over-the-top. Besides recreating the old crimes, there’s plenty of new violence directed at the leads. So watch for that.

One more component – slapstick humor. One of Johnston’s greatest strengths is his hearing and sense of smell. Director To will take full advantages of this – watch for the large fat man. Want still more slapstick – Yes, The Blind Detective will fire a gun, and drive a car. I’m not kidding.

The real problem with the film is not the over the top violence, or the slapstick which includes Cheng and Lau speaking (yelling at each other) far too loudly far too many times, or even the overindulgence in food and drink – no, the real problem is that by adding so many different genre’s into one film (rom-com, police procedural, slapstick, and thriller) – each of them is seemingly underdone or overdone. By this I mean, that while you will be laughing, or dreading some pending violence, and each of those may work in the isolated cases – the overall film suffers for it.

There’s too much reliance on parts that simply don’t fit, or that might have been never included. For example – Lau’s Johnston pines away for an old flame – a beautiful dance instructor played by the mainland China actress Gao Yuanyuan. Additionally, Johnston’s former boss and Detective Chief, Szeto Fat-bo is a role that was played by another China mainland actor – Tao Guo.

I think those particular story lines add little to the over film which is about Johnston and Ho. Their inclusion smacks of an apparent marketing ploy to better sell the film in Mainland China by including some well known Mainland actors in small roles.

Even with a great opening – a black screen shows the opening credits but with all the street noises that we and Johnston hear which include his tap-tap-tapping, and the Hong Kong traffic control sounds specifically built for the vision impaired, which places us right into his shoes as a blind person, and the presence of Lam Suet, a Johnnie To regular, the film has too many flaws or things that work against it. My overall impression is that it is wonderful to have Sammi and Andy back on screen together. Yes, they as a combo still work supremely well. However, they can’t pull this film into a level above mediocrity. Definitely, The Blind Detective will be remembered as a minor Johnnie To work. Simply, the film has too many moving parts, more in fact than it needs, and too many things that are done to excess.

Sammi Cheng, Johnnie To & Andy Lau

Sammi Cheng, Johnnie To & Andy Lau

The film did play at Cannes last spring, and while you can find a Region Three DVD available on EBay, the DVD has yet to become available on ether Netflix or Amazon. Three point zero is the rating, and I am only lukewarm on recommending the film.

Have a look at the trailer:


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