Confession of Pain is draped in deep melancholy. From story to cinematography, one cannot escape the strong moodiness painted by the creative trio of directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, and together with writer Felix Chong, this movie is widely anticipated as the one which will top their earlier acclaimed creation, Infernal Affairs. And signs were positive too, as they had snagged great leads in Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro.
But unfortunately, the strengths and chemistry between the two leads are what lifted the movie from mediocrity. Both Leung and Kaneshiro again play cop roles in the same movie (the other being Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express as lowly beat cops 663 and 223), and in the prologue, we're introduced to their close friendship, as well as a bust which set the tone for the movie, and added a shade of grey to one of their characters.
We know Kaneshiro can do intense. His recent roles in Perhaps Love as the obsessive, driven lover boy, and House of Flying Daggers' bewildered constable Jin, are nothing short of being spirited. Here, his Bong character looked somewhat similar to Aaron Kwok's role in Divergence, as the cop who's turning to the bottle in seeking solace for love lost, and the perennial quest to uncover the Whys to his past relationship. Tony Leung, well, we all know what he can do, and he doesn't disappoint. His role as Detective Hei brings about a duality of sorts, and he delivers this dilemma perfectly. The two men, while best friends, are almost in complete opposites from one another in character, yet their bond is strong, up until the final scene, which probably explains the title.
It's surprising that the story decided to show its hand midway in the movie. While it doesn't exactly provide any definitive answers, by planting that seed of thought in you during its presentation, it locks your thoughts in and doesn't allow them to wriggle free. You're left wondering why, the rationale behind the actions, as well as the filmmakers' deliberate lack of effort of hiding the truth. Bong's character will bring you on that journey of discovery. however, audiences who have consumed their fair share of crime stories, will find it a no-brainer connecting the dots themselves when the clues are presented.
Which is a pity, because everything turned predictable thereafter, narratively. However, stylistically, it is what assisted in keeping the attention on screen. The cinematography is brilliant, capturing moody loss and melancholy effortlessly in its never ending night shots of the cloudy city, unappealing streets, and empty apartments, and the effects enhanced crime recreation probably is one of the best I've seen coming out from Hong Kong. The pacing is kept tight, and a pursuit of a villain on foot was reminiscent of David Fincher's Seven where John Doe gave our detectives a run for their money.
The supporting characters had little to do, and I find it difficult to try and think up reasons for their roles besides being there for our leads' interaction. Shu Qi is largely wasted in her role as a beer maid and romantic interest for Bong, and Chapman To, an Andrew Lau and Alan Mak film regular, finds himself as a fellow cop in yet another role for comedic effect, in trying to lighten up moods whenever Bong and Hei begin to wallow. Xu Jinglei as Susan, Hei's wife, also had fairly little to do except to love her husband, and to show pain when things had to go the way they did.
Decorated with a great musical score, Confession of Pain is an adequately engaging story of friendship, loss, and the sacrifices one makes in achieving one's goals. The truth is always never easy to swallow, and discovery it seems, would be just as painful as the outcome.