Friday, October 23, 2009

[TIFF 2009 Review] The Laughing Policeman (笑う警官) (World Premiere)

We're On Your Side

Hong Kong may have its Laughing Gor, and now comes Japan's very own Laughing Policeman!

Based on the novel “Haruki Library” by novelist Jo Suzuki, the plot has all the ingredients of a gritty police suspense thriller that plays out just over 24 hours. Literally starting off with a bang, a policeman in Hokkaido leaves behind a suicide note "I didn't sing" before pulling the trigger with a gun to the mouth. Then comes the whirlwind of a media circus on the police force's alleged corruption and its secret slush funds, where cops pocketed money into personal accounts rather than for investigations use, calling attention to its unlawful accounting practices. The Article 100 Committee is soon set up, given powers to call up, in secret, any police officer for investigations and to probe into corruption within its ranks.

The plot further thickens with a seemingly unrelated murder case with a policewoman found dead in a strange apartment premise with ownership links back to the cops, and the precinct cops told to beat it when HQ representatives consisting the elite top brass, muscle their way to take over the investigations. It soon wraps with the Special Crime Task Force given the kill order for the accused detective Tsukui (Hiroyuki Miyasako), which we all should know, amongst the police force, would be something that would send shockwaves throughout the organization since they are going after one of their own.

Naturally all cops are tensed, with their organization reputation at stake and an investigations that seem more to be a cover up than thorough, and a group of policemen and woman decide to band together and work outside of the system to unravel all the mysteries involved in this complex web of intrigue. Led by Saeki (Nao Omori), they set up a shadow investigations unit at the Black Bird Jazz Bar, opened by an ex-cop, and call their rag-tag group The Laughing Policeman, giving themselves some 15 hours to solve the murder, and to deliver Tsukui to the Article 100 Committee when they find out that he might have been framed as his appointment with the Committee has been leaked, that he probably holds crippling information and whose testimony could bring down some folks at the top.

And so the stage is set for many dizzying twists and turns, where allegiance to the police organization, and amongst The Laughing Policeman get called into question from time to time. It just gets to you when integrity even amongst the unofficial grouping gets put under the spotlight, never being able to trust intentions. With careers at stake, you would know how hard it is to have to go against your employer, and the dilemma here is of course to either uphold justice which is what is morally right in the career of choice, or to take the more selfish, myopic view of saving one's own skin and be part of the corrupt system to help cover up its ugly tracks.

Director Haruki Kadokawa handled all the plot threads like a seasoned professional, opting not for quick edits and frantic pacing, but for a measured pace despite the race against time gimmick, leaving you room to analyze the clues and to connect the dots. I particularly liked how he had demonstrated the moral dilemma everyone faces, and how lines are drawn in the sand, with the grapevine being the imperfect tool to get to those wanting to assist in blowing the whistle, and to get some help from within official resources. Kadokawa designed plenty of moments that keep you guessing who's trustworthy, and who's not, with some buddy-cop brotherhood like a typical Hong Kong thriller thrown in for good measure as well.

With sophistication in how intricate the plot points all spiral like a hydra, this isn't your typical action thriller, so don't be looking out for the next big action sequence. It's more dialogue driven with a couple of surprises thrown up along the way, telling of just how deep the rabbit hole of corruption had been, and the difficulties in working outside the system against one's employer and organization. The cast delivered their roles without much fuss, and against a jazzy blues soundtrack, this film comes as quite the laidback surprise despite its rather abrupt finale.

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