Friday, January 18, 2008

The Flock

The New X-Files Team

Hong Kong directors crossing over to Hollywood to make movies is nothing new, with the temporary exodus of the likes of Tsui Hark, John Woo, Ringo Lam in the 90s. From their collective output, only a few movies (or may I say just one?) made an impact at the box office. The Andrew Lau and Alan Mak partnership has been a tour de force in recent HK cinematic history, especially with their now famous Infernal Affairs trilogy which was remade into Martin Scorsese's The Departed, so it's no surprise when Hollywood comes knocking on the door.

But without fellow collaborator Mak, who usually has script/story duties, how did Lau fare with writers Hans Bauer and Craig Mitchell? It's like the X-Files without the X, in the way the story is crafted, the characters and the parallels drawn with the Chris Carter series. Richard Gere and Claire Danes pair up ala David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, only that they don't belong to any federal investigative agency who bear arms, but are employees of Protective Services, who's chief role is to ensure that sexual predators who belong to their jurisdiction, are kept safe from society when they are released from having served time. Hence they are the shepherds tending to their flock, only that their flock suffer from sick sexual perversion with the propensity for violence.

The parallels in characterization are so blatantly obvious, that it's just a cosmetic touch up on the outside. Like Fox Mulder, Gere's Erroll Babbage is a strange, lonely man, consumed by his obsession in his quest to doggedly harass his flock to tote the line. Pained by a failed attempt to rescue a missing child, just like how Mulder pines for his missing sister, Babbage is shunned by colleagues and given the marching orders disguised as a retirement plan. He has deep disgust for the people he's monitoring, sick of their crimes and what they stand for, that he has no qualms in using unorthodox methods, short of flying off the handle while dishing out illegal, preemptive punishment. At the same time, he too has strong urges that he has to fight against, in order not to cross the line into becoming like those he loathes. As part of routine, he also scans newspapers and tabloids for clues and leads toward his objective, that of seeking closure, salvation for himself, and possessing a strong belief that the truth is still out there, and he wants to believe.

Danes' Allison Lowry on the other hand, is the ingenue brought in to replace Babbage. But in the meantime while learning the ropes on the job for the next 18 days, she is required to spy on him, and to report his shenanigans, pretty much like what Dana Scully was tasked to do with Fox Mulder. As the disbeliever of pre-emptiveness and holding onto the notion that those discharged back to society have been cured of their temptations, she slowly starts to see what Babbage sees, and understands that it takes a whole lot more than being just a desk and administrative job if she truly wants to help people.

And it is this discovery of the world of fetishes and deviant sexual practices, that we open all our eyes to, much like how 8mm starring Nicolas Cage brought snuff films into the spotlight. It's a decent investigative drama with the usual red herrings, and my, are they really good ones as it made you wonder quite often if your guesses are correct, and you soon find yourself firing from the hip as you get proved incorrect at alarming frequency, though I don't credit this to a tight narrative, but more from the sprawling number of characters (watch out for Avril Lavigne's cameo) and sub plots. The scene in the darkened ware/shophouse was akin to Se7en's David Mills and William Somerset when they raided John Doe's apartment and find plenty of bizarreness inside, though here, given the subject nature, it wasn't lingered upon much.

Apparently, The Flock somehow decided that Enrique Chediak's cinematography was good enough, despite its very strange style of having no style, utilizing almost every trick in the book to try and recreate feelings of watching another Se7en, only that this was deeply steeped in tinges of brown, rather than the doom and gloom of black. It does take a little while to get used to this, and I put this effect as one which actually distracts from what is happening in the story. Not a really good move though, with somewhat frequent repetition of scenes involving flashbacks.

But The Flock still makes decent entertainment, though X-philes out there would probably find it hard not to picture their favourite actors in the lead roles, given so much similarities in character. Gere and Danes do put forth some chemistry as the old fogey (heh) and his protege, and while it's not exactly great, Andrew Lau did manage to pull off something enjoyable.

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