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Lau Ching-wan as ex-police officer Jun Lee in a still from Detective vs Sleuths (category IIB, Cantonese), directed by Wai Ka-fai. Charlene Choi and Raymond Lam co-star.

ReviewDetective vs Sleuths movie review: Lau Ching-wan in wildly chaotic police thriller with urgent moral messages at its core

  • Wai Ka-fai’s film follows a heroic ex-police officer, played by Lau Ching-wan, who has hallucinations that include pleas for help from people before they are killed
  • The chaotic story makes fun of police and vigilantes, but the endless shoot-outs and explosions make it exhausting to watch

3/5 stars

Audiences who worry that the Hong Kong national security law will render every Hong Kong police drama stale and politically correct from now on can take heart in the cinematic release – both in the city and in mainland China – of Detective vs Sleuths, the latest film from director Wai Ka-fai, co-founder of Milkyway Image.

As well as quoting frequently – in German! – Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster”), the action thriller portrays supposedly righteous policemen and violent vigilantes alike as evil.

Wai, who is best known for scripting and co-directing several of Johnnie To Kei-fung’s most idiosyncratic films, tends to get completely out of control when he’s directing alone. And so it proves again with Detective vs Sleuths, which recycles the protagonist of 2007 film Mad Detective and the main case in 2013 film Blind Detective, both directed by To and co-scripted by Wai, for an utterly chaotic new story.
Lau Ching-wan plays Jun Lee, a former legend in the police force who has lost his job and family after unexplained hallucinations repeatedly interrupted, and sometimes helped, his investigations.

Such is Wai’s unbridled imagination that the mentally unhinged Lee’s visions even include pleas for help from the ghosts of people … before they are killed.

Raymond Lam as Fong in a still from Detective vs Sleuths.

After a flurry of opening scenes that clue us in on several gruesome murder cases in the past, the action jumps to the present and sees a new group of young vigilantes, nicknamed “The Chosen Sleuths” in honour of Lee, flamboyantly go after the actual murderers, who have been allowed to go free as a result of botched police investigations.

Lee is soon aided by Chan ( Charlene Choi Cheuk-yin), a police inspector who was previously the only survivor in a serial murder case; the pregnant Chan is now married to Fong (Raymond Lam Fung), the first policeman to arrive on the scene to rescue her all those years ago.

Lee and Chan discover a far more sinister truth about the cold cases.

Charlene Choi plays Inspector Chan in a still from Detective vs Sleuths.

Detective vs Sleuths has a captivating premise that simultaneously makes fun of the vigilantes’ ridiculously over-the-top revenge plans and implicates the police in the injustice caused by a combination of their poor judgment and ulterior motives.

Unfortunately, its relentless parade of shoot-outs and explosions also make this quite an exhausting watch. If we’re being cynical, that is certainly one way to distract the notoriously strict censors in mainland China.

While attentive viewers will find hints of satire in Wai’s moral fable, it is a pity to see the full potential of this unusual tale of crime and punishment buried in a mad dash from start to finish.

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