Cleverly constructed and often subtly humorous, “Task Force” is a surprisingly fresh take on the police-unit genre currently in vogue in Hong Kong that shows helmer Patrick Leung (“Somebody Up There Likes Me,” “Beyond Hypothermia”) as a developing talent to watch. A well-deployed cast, including baby-faced popster Leo Ku, makes this a connoisseur item for offshore Sino watchers.
Yet another H.K. movie sprung from a cartoon strip, pic is markedly different from the norm in its focus on the characters’ emotional makeup rather than just their crime-busting. Central protag (and narrator) is Lin (Ku), a member of a plainclothes unit in the crime-riddled Mongkok district who falls for a flaky hooker (Charlie Young) when he bungles an operation directed at mainland prostitutes.
She tells him the love of her life is a cold-blooded killer (Allen Moo) who once heroically saved her in a shootout and for whose return she is waiting. Pieces of the plot ingeniously come together in a final action sequence, by which time the audience has gotten to know everyone concerned.
Lin himself is a mixed-up kid badly in need of a father figure; his cop dad was shot on duty. The divorced LuLu (Eric Tsang) is a womanizer whose best friend is a triad musclehead, and the tough Shirley (Karen Mok) has a terminally sick father and a b.f. who treats her like a doormat.
Much of the humor spins on the offbeat dialogue, which is played straight-faced rather than in the usual pratfall H.K. style, and is underscored by an overall sympathy for the characters. In scenes between Ku and Young, director Leung also weaves his trademark dreamlike quality into the emotional fabric.
Ensemble playing is top-class and, aside from Young, who’s a little too clean and cute as the hooker, very fresh — especially Mok, here in a non-ditz role for a change. Technically, well-paced film is shot more like a drama than an action movie. Popping up in cameos are actor John Lone as the killer of Lin’s father, director Clifton Ko as a doctor and John Woo, for whom Leung was a longtime a.d., as a policeman. Pic performed only moderately on local release in November, doubtless due to its lack of clear-cut genre elements.