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Mad Detective

Lend your eyes to this unconventional Asian police thriller, but keep your ears.

Rod Lott February 17th, 2012

A slaughtered pig hangs in the middle of a room, at which Inspector Bun (Lau Ching Wan, “Black Mask”) stabs. Then he zips himself up in a suitcase and asks a colleague to push him down a stairwell. Then he cuts off his own ear as a going-away present for his boss.


Welcome to “Mad Detective,” where the adjective in the title is an understatement. He and the “Bad Lieutenant” would get along swimmingly. And this is merely the prologue!

In this huge Hong Kong hit from 2007 — now on a Blu-ray/DVD combo worth important from the UK’s Eureka! “Masters of Cinema” label — it’s explained that Bun’s unorthodox methods are merely his way of re-enacting crimes in order to solve them. He’s very, very good at it. He literally can see people's inner personalities; he investigates with emotions, not logic. The downside is that he’s certifiably mentally ill, and the ear-slicing is the last straw that leads into forced early retirement.

Five years later, he’s visited by Inspector Ho (Andy On, “True Legend”) of the Regional Crime Unit, seeking Bun’s opinion on a strange case: the disappearance of a fellow officer while pursuing a thief into a forest. After 18 months, the cop’s gun has shown up in several armed robberies, some escalating into murders. Bun agrees to help, which Ho may end up regretting because, among other things, his new “partner”:
• sees a wife no one else does;
• punches a woman in the face;
• urinates on a suspect’s leg to get his attention; and
• skips his psych appointments.

Bun’s daft nature — and Wan’s grim performance — make “Mad Detective” a fairly original mystery thriller with a strong supernatural bent. Co-directors Johnnie To (“Vengeance”) and Wai Ka Fai (“Fulltime Killer”) flip between portraying events as reality — or at least the reality as established by this way-out film, that is — and from Bun’s questionable point of view. So where Ho may see one person, Bun sees that every aspect of that person’s true self, depicted as a group of seven people, eerily walking and whistling in unison.  

While America’s “Lethal Weapon” franchise played Mel Gibson’s lunacy for laughs, the HK duo largely opts for seriousness, which gives the proceedings an edge that feels dangerous for viewers. No wonder, then, that the final showdown takes place amid a maze of mirrors, à la “Enter the Dragon,” for few things are as threatening as shards of broken glass. Naturally, the setting reflects the film’s theme and the script’s deft reveals.

Almost as surprising is that something this strong has yet to get a proper North American release on home video, while mediocrity from the same country does. You can stream “Mad Detective” from Amazon, but a film this visually interesting demands the best-possible presentation, which this Eureka!’s double-disc set certainly is. —Rod Lott

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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