Lady Cop & Papa Crook is gritty crime drama slash goofy comedy, which manages to be both complex and entertaining. Hong Kong directors Alan Mak and Felix Chong provide the viewer with compelling characters, an interesting story and gorgeous visuals from start to finish.
The film does take a bit of time before the viewer understands fully what is going on. It opens with a gang smuggling diesel fuel from Hong Kong to mainland China. The operation is interrupted by the police, and one of the fuel trucks speeds off, careening down a busy highway pursued by the cops. The fuel truck soon crashes, killing both the driver and a young mother and her son in another car. We then move swiftly to a group of women in a night club dishing about their love lives a la Sex and the City. This transition is confusing to the viewer, until it is revealed that the night club is a front for a male prostitution ring, and the women are all police officers. It is here that we are introduced to the film's comic heroine, Hong Kong police inspector Maureen Szeto, played by Sammi Cheng.
These plot threads come together when young Jimmy Fok (Buzz Chung) is kidnapped from his kindergarten. Jimmy is the son of John Fok (Eason Chan), the head of the triad gang that was behind the diesel smuggling, and therefore the deadly crash at the beginning of the film. Maureen is called in help retrieve John's son, and is not terribly welcome among the assorted criminals and family at the Fok home, not least because they have brutally murdered a double dealing associate in the foyer a few hours before. They grudgingly accept her help to retrieve the stolen child, and the film takes off in earnest.
A number of plotlines are woven into the story. The police on the mainland are mostly concerned with arresting John Fok, whom they have been pursuing for years but have not been able to capture since he is in Hong Kong. The police in Hong Kong are most concerned with retrieving the kidnapped Jimmy Fok, and are often at odds with their mainland counterparts as a result. In addition there are Maureen's comically tempestuous relationship with her emotionally unstable sculptor boyfriend, and the quest by the obsessed Xu Banshan (Zhang Guoli), whose wife and son were the victims killed in the car chase at the beginning of the film, to bring John Fok to justice. There are a tremendous amount of plot points, character cues and story lines to plow through, but directors Mak and Chong weave them deftly. After the first few minutes of confusion, the viewer is able to place all of the characters and important plot details in their necessary slots and enjoy the story.
They also handle the subtle changes in tone quite well. The film moves from car chases to bathroom humor to brutal murders to sincere avuncular advice to heartfelt professions of love with ease. The often subtle (and just as often not) humor never interferes with the very real tension over whether Jimmy will be rescued in time or John will be arrested. The gritty violence doesn't interfere with the romantic themes, which don't feel out of place with the high octane action. The nimbleness with which tone is handled is quite impressive, and it helps the story to develop without ever getting boring or bogged down.
Lady Cop & Papa Crook is quite funny and exciting, working well as both a comedy and a crime drama. The performances are first rate throughout, though the actors and directors are aiming more at an effortless, fun interpretation than spot on realism. The characterizations fit well with the slightly silly overall sense of things. The film is available in both a theatrical and director's cut on this disc. The only major difference between the two is the ending, which is both more upbeat in the director's cut and at the same time more ambiguous. Both versions are worth a viewing by anyone, and a purchase for the more ardent fans of Hong Kong cinema.
The video is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, and looks gorgeous. The image is very bright and clear, the colors are rich and the contrast is sharp. A few times the shadows would overpower the action somewhat during night scenes, but this was rare. The action, even during fast paced chase scenes and multi-person fights, is clearly visible and sharp. This is a very good looking transfer.
The audio is available in Dolby digital 5.1 channel (in Cantonese and Mandarin) and in DTS 5.1 channel (in Cantonese). The sound is rich and full, with good separation among the channels, which is particularly apparent during the several action scenes, where the viewer feels very present, in the middle of the action. The LFE channel is used effectively, also during the action scenes, where booming explosions cause a subtle but noticeable vibration. The dialogue is always crisp and easily audible. Subtitles are available in English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.
The extras for Lady Cop & Papa Crook are disappointing. They consist of a trailer for the film, and three short making off segments, totaling about twelve minutes. Neither the trailer nor the featurettes have English subtitles or language tracks available, however. This is especially frustrating with the making of material, which appears to be interesting, with interviews of many of the cast and crew, but is ultimately indecipherable to English speaking audiences.
Lady Cop & Papa Crook is a well acted, complex, compelling comedy drama. The shifting tone throughout the film is at first odd, but ultimately comprises much of the charm of the film. It is not content to be simply a standard Hong Kong gangster film, of which there are hundreds. The admixture of strong comedic and romantic themes help the film to stand out from the herd of conformist fare, that are more interested in copying early John Woo than creating interesting characters that a viewer might identify with. For those looking for an action filled crime drama with a heart and a sense of humor, this is the film to see.