I guess the holidays now give me some extra breathing space and time to raid my DVD library for many films yet unseen, and given my profound admiration of films coming out of Hong Kong's Milkyway Studios, such as the recent Sparrow or Mad Detective, that I would pull Breaking News out of my archives and give it a go too. Helmed by Johnnie To and written by Chan Hing-Ka and Yup Tin-Shing, like the other two films mentioned, this was also picked up by a European film festival (Cannes no less) and probably propelled To to cult like status in the West, with legions of fan (myself included) left almost always anticipating what's To has up his sleeves as his next offering.
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. Exploitation doesn't come from just the cops, because even the villains have their fare share of independent ability to put out material, thanks to new media tools for video and picture hosting. In some ways, this is a little bit like Dog Day Afternoon or 15 Minutes, but given a different take from the Fragrant Harbour.
If anything, the opening scene is where the money shot is, and cement this film as a classic amongst To's filmography. It's an almost seven minute long continuous take where we get introduced to almost everyone, from the cops in question to the villains, organizing themselves to move out for their big heist, building tension when everything comes together for an all out showdown with the surveillance team hot at their heels. It's a shoot out from all fronts, and the camera captures it all in one sweeping motion, before we head toward the crowded open streets for more mayhem ala Heat, which culminates in a clip taken by the media when a beat cop surrenders in full view to the criminals, allowing them to escape instead of apprehending them.
With the criminals on the loose, a cop obsessed to take them down, the police's public image being tainted, and a commissioner adamant in repairing the force's reputation, Breaking News is an enjoyable thriller with fine balance between the dramatics as well as in the action department, where SDU and PTU units get deployed to flush out the bad guys in some claustrophobic inducing cramped quarters of a block of flats.
Richie Jen has this steely cool resolve as chief villain Yuen, who leads his boys from the Mainland in a game of survival, having their plans for a heist end prematurely, and finding themselves up against a hard nosed cop Cheung (played by Nick Cheung), despite being armed to the teeth. Nick Cheung is pretty charismatic here in his role despite being nothing more than an action hero, though if you would like to see him in more dramatic material, then the recent Beast Stalker would be the appropriate choice. Kelly Chen rounds up the leading trio as the opportunistic Commissioner Rebecca Fong, entrusted by the upper echelons with the responsibility to restore pride to the force in the eyes of the media and public, and she goes into overdrive with her single minded focus on just that.
Being a Milkyway film, some Johnnie To regulars also make their way here to lend gravitas even though in supporting roles. Simon Yam came on and suggested some romantic tangles with Chen's Fong, while Maggie Siu's cop from the PR department allowed for some measured and experienced handling both within the department, and with the media on the outside. Cheung Siu Fai was dished out a rather plain character though, more like a Yes-Man, while Yong You's character was more of a wildcard who provided the good guys an extra dimension to deal with. The affable Lam Suet's role as a dad caught between the crossfire, allowed for some interesting camaraderie forged during a hostage situation, and is now one of my favourite of his supporting roles in many of To's films.
For fans of the genre and of Johnnie To, this is one movie that should not be missed. It had plenty of elements which made it genre defining, and for those who enjoy the many films of his which come with some intelligence required on the part of the good guys when hunting down their enemies, then Breaking News firmly belongs in that territory. Highly recommended!
Code 3 DVD by Mega Star Video Distribution is presented in anamorphic widescreen format (comes with explanation too on what to expect) with audio available in either Cantonese Dolby Surround EX, DTS-ES or in Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are available in English, and Traditional and Simplified Chinese. Scene selection is available over 20 chapters.
Given it's a single disc edition, the Special Features are quite limited, and presented in matted letterbox format. A synopsis in the Story is text based and in English and Chinese, rehashing the entire synopsis which you can read off the back cover. A single Deleted Scene (2:16, in Mandarin only, with Chinese subs only) sees the felons in the movie get their heist job, and follows Nick Cheung's cop team tailing them for leads. The Behind The Scene is woefully short, clocking in at 3 minutes, which is a super summarized version of the making of, complete with off the cuff statements made by cast and crew, and a glimpse at the sets and equipment used during filming. The Theatrical Trailer (2:48) is also included, as with the More Attraction section containing trailers of The Eye 2 (2:37) and Xanda (1:44). Rounding up the special features are some English and Chinese text based listing of Cast & Credits, with a credit listing again seen on the back cover, as well as a Bio & Fillmo(graphy) writeup on director Johnnie To, and actors Richie Jen, Kelly Chen and Nick Cheung.