Film review: Detective Chinatown – Wang Baoqiang, Liu Haoran in odd-couple comedy
Amusing and intricately crafted story set in Thailand brings plenty of laughs and action – too bad Hong Kong is only showing a dubbed Cantonese version
If you have seen one Wang Baoqiang performance, you’re entitled to think that you have seen them all. The Chinese actor has made such an obnoxiously over-the-top impression of himself in Lost in Thailand , Kung Fu Jungle and numerous other films that his character in Detective Chinatown barely raises an eyebrow. In his second feature, director Chen Sicheng (Beijing Love Story) has accomplished the seemingly impossible: he’s found a co-star to balance out Wang at his most grating.
The baby-faced actor Liu Haoran plays the stuttering and expressionless Qin Feng, a detective fiction buff who, despite his photographic memory and incredible sleuthing skills, fluffs his police admission interview in China. As soon as he arrives for a week-long vacation in Bangkok’s Chinatown, his host Tang Ren (Wang) – a constantly shrieking cousin-uncle who proclaims himself a top private investigator in town – is framed as the prime suspect of a locked-room murder mystery.
Intricately scripted throughout, this spirited action comedy revolves around a motley crew of bumbling policemen and criminals, while the uncle-nephew pair must fend off the dogged pursuit of both to solve the case and clear their names. A box of gold that has gone missing from the crime scenes only turns the pressure up a few notches. It says much about the colourful characters, thrilling action and inventive visual effects that Chen’s odd-couple caper never gets tedious over its 135-minute duration.
Finally, a word on the Hong Kong release. Although it is laudable that the distributor is releasing this rather decent film in spite of the Hong Kong audience’s growing apathy towards Chinese productions, it’s unfortunate that Detective Chinatown is only showing at two minor cinemas (L Cinema in Shau Kei Wan, Cine-Art House in Ngau Tau Kok) and in a Cantonese dubbed version. As things stand, the viewer’s best option is probably to wait for a DVD release of its original Putonghua and Thai version.
Detective Chinatown opens on June 30
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook