Overstuffing the plot to the point of confusion early on, Hong Kong crimer “Cold War” warms up considerably thereafter, but its false start will likely prevent many auds from fully engaging with the drama’s complex maneuvers. Sporting a heavyweight cast headed by Tony Leung Ka-fai and Aaron Kwok as rivals for Hong Kong’s top police job, this debut pic helmed by Longman Leung and Sunny Luk has been pre-hyped as having “Infernal Affairs”-like potential, but appears unlikely to duplicate that film’s international success. Hong Kong release is set for Oct. 18; star wattage alone should ensure strong regional business.
It’s a case of too much information all at once in the opening reel, as the pic introduces a large gallery of high-ranking cops with a flurry of busy onscreen text, rapid-fire dialogue and visuals that leap around the territory. All that properly emerges is that the immaculately presented Sean Lau (Kwok) and rough-around-the-edges M.B. Lee (Leung) are uncomfortably sharing the position of acting police commissioner while their veteran superior is overseas. Character details that come to light much later make sense of their thinly veiled animosity, but for now, auds have to accept things at face value.
Strained relations reach the breaking point when emergency-squad commander M.Y. Shun (Joyce Cheng) and four of her team members are kidnapped by goons demanding $12 million or else. With his son Joe (Eddie Peng) among the hostages, and talk of a rat in the house, Lee assumes control of what ends up being a failed rescue. Supported by fellow top-brass buddy Vincent (Chin Ka-lok) and convincing Lee loyalist Albert (Lam Ka-tung) to back his actions, Lau steps in to call the shots. In one of the film’s relatively few action sequences, Lau’s attempt to deliver the ransom culminates in an exciting shootout on a freeway during which most of the money goes missing.
Bombarding auds with details and depriving them of much in the way of clarity for the first half hour, “Cold War” picks up dramatically once the hostage drama is resolved. At this point, both Lee and Lau come under the scrutiny of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, a watchdog body. Grilled by smarmy young ICAC investigator Billy Cheung (Aarif Rahman), Lau appears to be the victim of an elaborate conspiracy to destroy his prospects of landing the top job. The script keeps plenty of intriguing twists up its sleeve as attention shifts to Lee’s actions, but even viewers paying strict attention may have difficulty making sense of the intricate machinations surrounding the central duo.
One thematic thread that will not be lost on anyone is the ringing endorsement of Hong Kong’s longstanding policing and judicial systems. Even in the most heated exchanges between the Lee and Lau camps, everyone agrees that what matters most is observing transparency, and upholding civil and legal values that have made Hong Kong “the safest place in Asia.”
Expertly conveying integrity one moment and the possibility of traitorous and corrupt tendencies the next, Leung is the standout in a solid ensemble that includes Andy Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) in a cameo as Hong Kong’s secretary for security. Third-billed Charlie Young has little to do in the underdone role of a police PR boss.
With lengthy backgrounds in art direction and assistant directing, respectively, co-helmers Leung and Luk run hot and cold. While much of the action-oriented material feels rushed, there’s plenty of crackle and spark in many of the dialogue-driven sequences.
Technical aspects are fine if rather workmanlike. Should the movie proceed to a sequel, as indicated loud and clear in the final scene, a little more pizazz in the pictorial and musical departments would do well.