Film review: Cold War 2 – Aaron Kwok, Tony Leung renew power struggle in political thriller
With a stellar cast, tight plot and sharp editing, this Hong Kong-made sequel about crooked cops and terrorism outshines the award-winning original
Once in a blue moon, a scrappy film comes along to win over the world and mystify its few detractors. Never known for being an ornery contrarian, this critic was one of the few people who weren’t at all convinced by Cold War , the highest-grossing Hong Kong film in 2012 and the winner of nine prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including, astoundingly, best picture.
Gritty cop thrillers may be a dime a dozen in this city, but few have the self-importance of Sunny Luk Kim-ching and Longman Leung Lok-man’s directing debut. While pitching us the illogical scenario of terrorist attacks by renegade cops, Cold War tried hard to assert its seriousness by quoting Winston Churchill, comparing itself to Watergate, and paying lip service to Hong Kong’s success in upholding rule of law and the common law system.
In the first film, the hijacking of an armoured police van and two terrorist bombings are revealed to be part of a master plan orchestrated by constable Joe Lee (Eddie Peng Yu-yan), who is the son of M.B. Lee (Tony Leung Ka-fai), one of two deputy police commissioners – the other being Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing) – fighting for control over the rescue missions under operation “Cold War”. The van remains missing until the end.
When the action picks up again in this superior sequel, Lau is the new police commissioner, while M.B., shamed by his son, is on pre-retirement leave. Barely has Lau buried a killed-off colleague when his wife is kidnapped by Joe’s accomplices. In an ironic reverse of the first film’s power moves, Lau breaks protocol and escorts Joe into the city by himself, only to lose the criminal during another bombing.
Scripted by Luk, Leung and Jack Ng Wai-lun with unusual respect for procedural justice (when it suits the story), Cold War 2 then enters uncharted territory: Lau finds himself the target of an impeachment hearing in the Legislative Council. An influential lawyer and independent legislator, Oswald Kan (Chow Yun-fat), carries out the grilling. As it transpires, M.B. has joined his son and other shady ex-cops to take down Lau in a larger political conspiracy.
With its cast of Hong Kong cinema’s finest, the film makes an engrossing spectacle of how public servants – including those at the very top level – could be corrupted by power. While not exactly meant to reflect the public’s more ambivalent sentiment towards the police force in these post-Occupy times, Cold War 2 makes a point of pillorying politicians who exploit the legislature and the police force to purge their opponents. Still, it can get awfully conceited at times.
One minute, the story is sticking to standard procedures with comical resolve: after a multiple-car crash and deadly shoot-out in a tunnel, Kan screams at Lau for – of all things – wiretapping without a permit. At other times, however, everything comes to pass: never mind that Kan, inexplicably, sends his barristers out as surveillance agents, or that Lau, shunning myriad rules, commands a secret team of ICAC investigators to solve the case and rescue his own career.
With the first Cold War and last year’s Helios, Luk and Leung risked becoming synonymous with the clunky one-liners and pompous terrorist plots that peppered their first two features. But though Cold War 2 fails to provide closure – yet again – it is at least far more competently plotted and tautly edited, and superbly acted across the board. This is a political thriller that deserves the billing.
Cold War 2 opens on July 8
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