On a particular day, a couple of events occur to set the stage in Asia’s safest city. First a bomb explodes near a movie house, in a busy shopping district in Mongkok. This is followed by a car driving at dangerously high speeds. A police Emergency Unit (EU), a veritable high tech van/comm center, proceeds to give chase. Ultimately the car will careen out of control and crash with the police just a few seconds behind.
The driver is shaken but unhurt, but acts in a drunken manner. The police jump out of their van and beginning questioning the man who is extremely belligerent and resistant. When the police state that they are going to arrest him, he asks for a moment to make call. He calls a judge. Whatever the judge tells the van’s commander, we aren’t privy to, but it is safe to assume, an arrest is not imminent.
The city is Hong Kong, and the film is called Cold War. With the Police Commissioner en route to Copenhagen, Denmark for a high-level international police conference, the next two highest ranking senior Police Executives are in charge. One is Sean Lau who is the Deputy Commissioner of the Police (Management) and the other is M.B. Lee who is Deputy Commissioner (Operations) and is Acting Commissioner of Police.
What they are facing is the likelihood of the two events not being random at all as they soon find out that the EU Van has gone offline, the police officers’ mobile phones have been shut off, and the van is off the grid and it can’t be raised by normal comm links. With five highly trained officers , and some state of the art equipment on board, the now missing van is said to be fully loaded and in a worst case scenario that assumes all the officers die, with the lost equipment and the death benefits paid to the families, the cost would be in the millions.
And that says nothing about the loss of confidence by the police (and the public) in their ability to protect the city and the citizens.
Sure enough a package is delivered, and left on the sidewalk. Suspecting a possible bomb, the package is opened by a remote-controlled robot. Inside are a mobile phone and a memory card which contains video and voice data stating that they want to trade the van and the officers for a huge sum of money.
Once everyone, the police brass, and we know what is at stake, the film switches gears. It turns out that M.B. Lee’s son is one of the officers being held hostage. So Lee wants to go into full-bore attack mode, here called a Tier One Response.
Lau wants a more cerebral approach – get the details, appear to be willing to comply (as in pay the ransom) while using sophisticated tracking and surveillance equipment as the ransom is being paid.
The two chiefs butt heads. And we get a big time duel, with the one who wraps this case being moved to the head of the line, giving him a strong leg up to become the future Police Commissioner.
But the film isn’t just about operations, or about dueling Deputies arraying forces and support. There’s plenty at stake: for example – what should be told to the people of Hong Kong? Who is going to run the show, and how should the deal go down, and besides all that – there’s the small fact that when the question is asked – who could take down the Hong Kong Police – one must always consider that it most likely would take an insider, someone with knowledge of police codes, operational tactics, radio frequencies and so forth.
With Aaron Kwok as Lau, and Tony Leung Ka-Fai as Lee, there’s plenty of star-power on hand. Other Hong Kong film stars like Michael Wong is on board in a cameo as the Police Commissioner, and Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau has a brief turn as the Secretary of Security (a senior government post much like Secretary of Homeland Security here in the USA) give the production plenty of wattage.
The beautiful Charley Young plays the HKPD Press Liaison, and looks good in doing so. Directed and written by Sunny Luk and Longman Leung, the film is rich in production values. In fact it took down 11 nominations and won 8 Hong Kong Film Awards (The HK Oscar equivalent) including Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay.
Veteran Hong Kong supporting players like Gordon Lam (above left) and Chin Lok (above right) are also in this film.
The action set pieces are superb, and the investigation, the infighting, and then the operation to retrieve the cops and the van, are actually excellent, but there is something of a misstep. You see, while all of the above is going on, the ICAC (Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption) steps in with their own investigation which while serving to accelerate tension among the principals, it does not really have a strong enough actor (Aarif Lee) in the role. And from the audience’s perspective, it comes off as an unnecessary complication.
There is another negative side to it as well. There’s a bit too much pomposity in the somewhat didactic approach once the ICAC shows its face.. Yes, we all want to live safely, and free of worry, so there isn’t really a need to give this side of the film so much emphasis. However this is just in the last third.
Aaron Kwok, now 49 years old, has been a Hong Kong leading man for a long time. He’s played cops, and crooks as well as heart throbs in rom/coms. This time out, he’s all business. He wears serious looking business suits and has abandoned his signature crew cuts. Tony Leung Ka-Fai, now 56, has an even longer list of film credits having appeared in 116 films. As usual, his larger than life physical presence dominates every scene he is in. But Kwok’s Lau is never cowed, and never gives up any ground to his larger adversary.
For both of the Directors, this is their first time at the helm – but you’d never know it. They show a lot of polish and skill with this film, and likely have a bright futures. I’ve reviewed a number of HK cop films, and I generally like them. This one is no exception.
Some have said that Cold War is similar to Infernal Affairs which became The Departed when Scorsese directed the US version. Cold War involves factions and dueling police chiefs, but none of the men have home lives, nor do we see anything of them away from the job like they don’t even go out for drink, as an example. Have a look at the trailer.
I’m going to rate the film at four point zero and recommend it. The DVD is available on both Amazon and eBay.