Prolific Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To (杜琪峰) reunites with super stars Andy Lau (劉德華) and Sammi Cheng (鄭秀文) in Blind Detective (盲探), a thriller-cum-romantic comedy that centers on two detectives forming an odd-couple partnership to solve a crime. Decidedly an entertaining genre offering that aims for nothing more than a healthy commercial return, To’s thrill-rom-com workout nevertheless lacks the usual refinement of the director’s work and falls into a tiresome cinematic smorgasbord that juxtaposes slapstick with grisly violence.
Lau plays Johnston, a gifted but testy detective forced to retire after an accident leaves him blind. But the sleuth continues to use his remarkable deductive powers to solve cold cases for bounty money, with the help of his old police friend Szeto Fatbo (Guo Tao, 郭濤).
Ho (Cheng), a sparky junior cop, comes in contact with Johnston when the two accidentally stop a crime. Keen to learn from the man she idolizes, Ho persuades the blind detective to solve the case of her high-school friend Minnie’s disappearance.
The movie soon plunges into a frenetic plot that mostly involves this odd pair investigating crimes, which includes a murder at a morgue and a serial killer targeting lovelorn women. Love triangles featuring a tango dancer (Gao Yuanyuan, 高圓圓) are thrown into the drawn-out, over two hour-long running time.
The film’s sinister humor derives from its bouncy portrait of bloody violence. With seemingly supernatural powers of observation that enable him to mentally project himself into crime scenes and communicate with murder victims, Lau’s detective reconstructs each crime in a meticulous fashion, always involving his eager-to-please Watson dressed up in costumes to immerse herself in different roles.
The fourth collaboration between Lau and Cheng with To, the movie relies heavily on the veteran duo’s screen presence and easy chemistry. Cheng feels genuinely enjoyable as a boisterous, peppy junior who has a secret crush on her sightless mentor. Lau, however, seems to have stepped too far out of his comfort zone, pumping out a burlesque show in which his grumpy blind detective of the title excitedly brandishes his walking stick, stumbles into furniture or smirks and quips like a jester. At times, the duo’s flavorless antics and comic shtick are pushed too far over the top.
Along with three other writers, To’s filmmaking collaborator Wai Ka-fai (韋家輝) hands in a hybrid of narrations that barely holds together. While the main storyline deals with the mystery surrounding Ho’s missing friend, the film romps about in different cases and genres, abruptly swinging between sequences of relentless slapstick played at frenzied volume to ghoulish revelations of savage murders. The humor is often grating, a dreadful example of which can be found in the sequence involving a flirtatious grandmother.
To’s fans, however, may find gratification in the film’s few well-crafted moments in which gruesome violence is met with macabre humor.
The eloquent editing that weaves together past and present, reality and flashbacks as Lau’s character visualizes the crime scenes and communicates with the victims also helps to sustain the story with a frenetic continuity.
With Blind Detective, director To embraces the lowbrow to play for laughs but ends up confusing his viewers with jarring tones.