Hong Kong cinema has a long and illustrious history of searing cop and action based cinema, a history Cold War (2012) is looking to add to. Overall, despite its failings, the film is generally a well thought out and brought to life addition to this heritage.
An issue that plagues many a police procedural is the mistaking of labyrinthine plot convolutions for intrigue. The film opens by whipping through an organisation structure of the Hong Kong police force so quickly that it is hard not to suspect Cold War is going to fall headlong into this trap. Thankfully though the film settles into a rhythm of balancing an examination of the internal wheelings and dealings and politics at the top echelon of a police force, with a race against the clock police procedural. At the heart of the action are Sean Lau and M.B. Lee, the Deputy Commissioners of the force who are played off against each other as they jockey for control of the situation. The combination of this street level operation and the political machinations that are driving it make the first half of the film rocket along. It is a cause and effect situation that is rarely played out on the big screen.
Unfortunately, there is no doubting that the film’s second half is not quite as successful as the first. It is always interesting when the entire plot of the film appears to wrap up halfway through. But in this case, it seems to take a lot of wind out of the sails of the film and the tension and intrigue largely falls out of the film. The final big reveal of the big baddie also feels as though it falls strangely flat, not the whack upside the head I suspect that the filmmakers were hoping for. That is definitely not to say that the second half of the film is all bad though. Far from it, tis just not as engaging as the first half. There is still a lot of interesting stuff going on. I am a big reader of the American crime writer Michael Connelly and it is interesting to see such a similar attitude taken towards internal affairs in this film that Connelly’s, very American, crime fiction output takes. Cold War delivers on the action front too. The scenes of the police in the field are really well shot, building tension and managing to actually be easy to follow. A simple courtesy that seems to be missed by so many contemporary action directors. Most of the really fantastic stuff that Cold War brings (and there is a lot) can be attributed to the characters of Lau and Lee played by the totally badarse Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka-fai respectively. Both of these actors bring real intensity to their performances and manage to encapsulate different aspects of management whilst doing so. It is a slight shame then that the acting from some of the more minor players is of a distinctly lower standard.
The first half of Cold War is utterly brilliant stuff. The second half fits more comfortably into the good but not great mould. In any case, the film is well worth the look if you are in the market for an original enough Hong Kong crime flick driven by two very good central performances.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs