True, interest in the Hong Kong crime genre might be waning, but To and his band of filmmakers from Milkyway have so far never disappointed in giving the genre some breath of fresh air with each offering put on the table. Here, they managed to put a little spin on a tale between the cops, felons and the media, where the latter can be used as a double edged sword, subject to manipulation to further the political gains of either parties. The fact that Johnnie To’s latest film Breaking News got an invite to the Cannes Film Festival should tell you something about the director’s international reputation. Basically, that reputation exists, but it’s also inexorably tied to the crime genre. While many of Hong Kong cinema’s current movies and talent get little or no widespread attention, it’s always pleasing to know that Johnnie To still can create a buzz with a large crowd of fans of Asian Cinema, myself included.
As the movie opens, we’re given a quick look at two of our drama’s key players. Yuan (Richie Ren) and his crew are working a heist, not aware that Inspector Cheung (Nick Cheung) and his squad are tailing them. Their plan goes south when they are stopped by a pair of traffic cops, a situation that rapidly devolves into a shoot-out that leaves two dead, and becomes a public relations nightmare when the media shows up and captures not only the running gunfight, but continuously replays the embarassing image of one officer holding up his hands, begging the bandits not to shoot. Breaking News charges forward like a barrelling freight train, which can be credited to Johnnie To’s solid direction, as well as his unparalleled ability to work minor quirks into otherwise generic crime films.
Despite the director flashily making use of every tool in his arsenal, the performances are thoroughly grounded. The filmmakers supply a constant stream of action, but in quick enough bursts that it doesn’t become fatiguing, and setting it up so that there’s always tension going. It’s not the satire it aspires to be, but it is a white knuckler of a crime movie. Lots of cop ‘n robber movies come out every year, some with aspirations to be more. This one is executed a lot better than most, so if you like the crime, you’ll find a great deal to enjoy about this.
Breaking News starts with a bang, and it’s a long one. I read prior that To wanted to accomplish a 7 minute long, one take action set piece for this film and roughly 2 minutes in, that is right in our faces courtesy of the street shootout. I also read that To had trouble accomplishing exactly how he conceived this and what’s there is admirable considering its length but also comes with bumpy and shaky camerawork. For the actors, the writing team really only provides 90 minute arcs, which works absolutely fine based on what the film itself is. Breaking News delivers fast-paced and tension-filled action entertainment with little attention to characters and a media study of smaller proportions. For fans of the genre, this is one movie that should not be missed.