Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Suspect / Gik do chung faan (Hong Kong, 1998)

A mid-career action thriller from Hong Kong action thriller specialist Ringo Lam (8 Dec 1955 – 29 Dec 2018), The Suspect pretty much is an illustrative example of how even a competent genre specialist can have a bad film day. 
Trailer to
The Suspect:
The film tells the tale of a handsome young man named Don (Louis Koo of Troublesome Night 5 [1999], Zu Warriors [2001], the Chinese Ghost Story [2011 / trailer] remake and Always Be with You [2017 / trailer]), who gets out of jail after sitting 12 years, though whether he actually committed the crime or took the fall is never 100% clear. His best friend Max (Julian Cheung of The First 7th Night [2009 / trailer] & The House That Never Dies II [2017 / trailer]) sets him up for a night in a posh hotel with a hot hooker, but the next morning Don learns that as repayment he has to assassinate the politician across the way and kill the hooker, neither of which he is willing to do because he is committed to a fresh start. So, instead, Max does the politician and frames Don, who is now "The Suspect". And let the car chases and shootouts begin! 
Louis Koo sings
Mr Cool:
Don't be fooled by the imitation The Usual Suspect (1995 / trailer) style poster, as The Suspect is in no way a mystery or very involving. The bad guys and good guys are more or less always clear from the beginning, even if the narrative itself is pretty much a mess. Set in a Hong Kong and Philippines where the law (at least in the movie) is pretty much a second thought and relatively incompetent, and no one bats an eye when men start running around with submachine guns and where, it seems, you can get in trouble for killing a politician but not for mowing down innocent bystanders, the narrative itself is inconsequential and uninteresting, almost by the numbers, and exists primarily as an excuse to string together car chase scenes and shootouts. And there are a lot of both, though definitely more of the latter, with the men shooting all over the place with such abandon that one gets the sense that every shot bullet gives them an orgasm.
Neither Ringo Lam nor co-scribe Wing-Kin Lau (co-scribe of The Untold Story [1993 / trailer]) really put too much thought into their story, the paper-thin plot of which comes across as if strung together by spit and created just to string together the shootouts and chase scenes. Yam, however, has filmed better shootouts and better car chases in better movies; while the action scenes are undoubtedly satisfactorily shot, they all lack the thrill and élan required to make them exciting, and thus they really come across as simply time-padding or as fulfilling basic expectations. Even the singular female character of note, as in the only one who is onscreen for longer than five minutes in total, the reporter cum lawyer Annie (Ada Choi of Bloody Friday [1996]), is less an essential or even involving element than she is, well, sort of pointless to the story, which is why she also disappears for huge swathes of the tale and basically completely gone by the film's resolution. It must be said, however, the scene in which it is suddenly revealed that she is also a lawyer and then proceeds to give Don legal advice on how to react to the denials and repudiations of the bad-guy Dante (Simon Yam of Bloody Friday [1996] and so much more) is so hilariously idiotic that it almost comes across as satiric.
That scene gets a good laugh, as does the intentionally funny scene in which Don is confronted with his first mobile phone, and there are also a few other bright spots in The Suspect, but nothing that truly makes the film memorable or noteworthy — although Don does have a short but eye-catching scene in which he gets out of bed shirtless and wearing tighty-whities. True, he soon puts on a shirt, but still, even as non-fans of tighty-whities we have to say he looks good in them. Both Max and Don are rather good-looking men, but with the exception of that one short scene, they both (as to be expected) remain fully clothed throughout the film. 
Max is perhaps the most complex character found in The Suspect, though complexities and psychological exploration are not exactly a focus of the movie. Nevertheless, more so than Dan, he is a man torn by the situation: he is forever waffling and unsure to whom he truly owes his loyalty and love. He is truly unable to decide between his "father" Dante and his "brother" Don, indiscriminately betraying and then saving the one and then the other, changing his mind way more often than most men change their tighty-whities. But then, were he more resolute, were he able to simply shoot Dan or betray Dante, The Suspect would be a very short movie. 
The Suspect is pretty much a generic Hong Kong action movie in every sense of the word and is greatly hampered by its non-involving and occasionally confused storyline, which often leaves the viewer three steps behind. (It took a while before we could figure out the what and why of King Tso [Ray Lui of Devil Hunters (1989) & Zai shi zhui hun (1993)] and his men, for example.) Never truly terrible and never truly any good, above all The Suspect simply feels pointless and unnecessary. It is definitely a lesser Ringo Lam movie, and as such anything but essential viewing.

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