In the grand scheme of things in the detective procedural genre, the idea of a blind detective who relies on his other heightened senses, and an almost mystical sixth sense that allows him to relive crimes like a method actor doesn’t sound all that odd. So the revelation that Johnnie To’s quirky cop project is in fact a ribald comedy that pokes fun in liberal doses actually came as something of a surprise.
The film stars Hong Kong superstars Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, in their seventh collaboration, as an unlikely detective duo – him blind and prone to clumsiness (at times it feels like we’re being invited to laugh at his misfortune a touch too much) and her a besotted sidekick with promising skills who acts as his foil and his aide. She employs him to help her find a missing childhood friend, in exchange for an astronomical fee, and along the way they take on a couple of sidebar cold cases that are best suited to his powers of detection (and come with bounties, of course.)
The central acting pair make for an endearing duo, even if there tendency to over-act robs the comedy of the slow-burn element that works so well in traditional Western spoofs, and they’re good fun to watch, even as the film loses its way by being too brave in its genre-hopping.
Blind Detective is ridiculous – a tongue-in-cheek parody of the detective genre, with a ludicrous plot and definite vibes of The Pink Panther, Ace Ventura and Johnny English in the comical dynamic. There’s a lot of silliness, and a lot of it is funny, though sometimes it’s directed at the film–makers’ decisions as much as at the actual jokes. The plot feels more like episodes strung together as a flimsy excuse to make Johnston fall over, but you never get the sense that it really matters to To anyway.
Unfortunately, the film loses more points for two contradictions: the first relates to production quality, and the second to the film’s tone. Firstly, though the cinematography is lush and excellent conceived, adding a mystical gloss to the “detection” scenes when we enter Johnston, two characters have been dubbed (and rather badly) to add a disparity in quality that is noticable for its jarring difference.
And then there’s the issue of tone. The film is hilarious in parts, and goes quite heavy on the slapstick, which makes the grimmer, grittier sequences an odd fit. It’s rather jarring to segue from physical comedy and clowning to a serial killer who eats the eyeballs of his victims, so it rather confuses the identity of the film, and you’re never entirely sure which bits are supposed to attract the laughs.
All-in-all, there’s some pleasure to be had in the rampant silliness of To’s slapstick tickler, but it loses its way a little too carelessly at times, and it’s hard not to come out a little baffled at what just happened.
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