On the Edge

An identity crisis overtakes an undercover cop merging back into regular policework in melancholy Hong Kong crimer "On the Edge." Helmed by Herman Yau, pic relies heavily on a moody main perf by Nick Cheung and pivots on a flashback/flash-forward structure to boost dramatic tension.

With:
With: Nick Cheung, Francis Ng, Anthony Wong, Rain Li.

An identity crisis overtakes an undercover cop merging back into regular policework in melancholy Hong Kong crimer “On the Edge.” Helmed by Herman Yau (“The Untold Story,” “Dating Death”), pic relies heavily on a moody main perf by Nick Cheung and pivots on a flashback/flash-forward structure to boost dramatic tension. Pic has neither the smarts nor the finesse to achieve remake status a la “Infernal Affairs,” but remains a strong genre piece. “Edge” garnered respectable biz when released in Hong Kong last year, but has yet to garner wider cult status. Asian-themed fests should investigate.

Narrative is structured as the dying memories of shot and bleeding cop Harry, aka Harry-boy Sin (Cheung). Yarn consists of two chronologically criss-crossing strands. One begins with the moment Harry reveals his cop-status by arresting triad leader Don Dark (Francis Ng). The other strand reveals Harry’s beginnings as a punk infiltrating Dark’s gang via a relationship with bar girl Cat (Rain Li).

Having put Dark behind bars, Harry is partnered with hard-nosed cop Lung (Anthony Wong, in top form) and finds himself a leper among his lawful colleagues. Harry’s problems are compounded by his inability to let go of his criminal life and his desire to hang out with his favorite gang members and his crooked g.f. But Harry’s crime-life buddies — having had their confidences betrayed — also treat the undercover cop as persona non grata.

Pic is competently helmed by Yau, but his script’s back-and-forth structure is unwieldy, allowing precious little time for auds to catch their breath. Sometimes it’s only the changing color of Harry’s hair (dyed blonde for street punk; plain black for straight-laced policeman) that differentiates between scenes transpiring eight years apart.

Film also adds a dash of bitter irony as it underlines the fact that the police are often more brutal and uncaring than criminals. While the car-chase finale qualifies this as an actioner, the climax is too drawn out.

While not the most charismatic of actors (and hence perfectly cast as an undercover cop), Nick Cheung brings a burning intensity to his role. Supporting thesps are good across the board, but Wong outdoes himself as Harry’s tough partner. Lensing has the harsh glare that has long dominated Hong Kong crimers, and all tech credits are pro.

Original title, meaning “the black-and-white way,” alludes to Harry’s twin careers.

On the Edge

Hong Kong

Production: A Universe Entertainment presentation of a Local Production production. (International sales: Universe Films, Hong Kong.) Produced by Ng Kin Hung. Executive Producers, Daniel Lam, Chiu Suet Ying. Directed, written by Herman Yau.

Crew: Camera (color), Puccini Yu; editor, Azrael Chung; art director, Raymond Kwok; music, Brother Hung; sound (Dolby Digital), Tam Tak Wing; stunt coordinator, Bruce Law. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 10, 2007. Running time: 88 MIN.

With: With: Nick Cheung, Francis Ng, Anthony Wong, Rain Li.

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