"This is a great show!"
The movie begins with a bravura 8-minute opening shot that is almost mind-blowing in its complexity. Imagine the most elaborate tracking shot that DePalma or Scorsese ever attempted and place it in the middle of a full-tilt HK action sequence in which an entire city block erupts into war zone chaos. It starts quietly enough, with two detectives staking out the building where some suspected thieves are operating, but when a pair of unknowing beat cops passing by happen to stop one of the crooks for a minor traffic violation, this makes everyone nervous and before you know it all hell has broken loose. Shots are fired, armed bandits with machine guns pop out from every direction, snipers appear on the rooftops, cars explode left and right, and the camera is all over the place, swishing and swooping to keep up the action, never cutting away. It's a mini movie all on its own, and a hell of a way to start the picture.
Things don't let up from there. The criminals flee to a crowded apartment building, taking the complex over and holding one family hostage. This is when Inspector Rebecca arrives on the scene and, reeling from the PR backlash of civilians complaining on the news about their unsafe streets, attempts to "direct" the crisis from her control center, feeding the news broadcasts carefully choreographed images of heroic police officers rushing in to take charge of the situation. Even though real people's lives hang in the balance, to Rebecca the whole thing is just a publicity event to be handled. This extends to ridiculous extremes such as taking exit polls of fleeing residents: "How do you rate the evacuation?"
For their part, the criminals respond in kind using cell phones, a web cam, and an internet connection to send their own equally biased depiction of the events to the same news channels, including footage of them treating their hostages kindly and sitting down to a nice meal in the middle of the siege. So goes back-and-forth a technological and psychological media battle between the two sides, each trying to manipulate public sympathy for their cause. Caught in the middle of all this is a young cop whose squad has gone into the building against Rebecca's orders, seemingly the only ones who care more about catching the criminals and saving lives than about how they look on TV.
In recent years, the Hong Kong film industry has churned out many silly, overblown action movies loaded with hyperkinetic stunts and violence but with little attention paid to the quality of their scripts. Johnnie To continues to break that mold. At barely 90 minutes, Breaking News is a short but tightly wound thriller, smart and action-packed. It moves along at a breakneck pace yet still manages to develop interesting, complex characters. This is Hong Kong cinema at its best.
A Mandarin dub has also been provided in Dolby Digital-EX. Subtitles are available in English, Traditional Chinese, or Simplified Chinese. The English translation is adequate, with a few noticeable typos and grammatical mistakes but nothing severe enough to affect its coherency overall.
The disc has a small selection of supplements, but unfortunately little with English translation. There is a 2-minute deleted scene in non-anamorphic widescreen, with audio only from the Mandarin dub and no option for English subtitles (only Chinese subtitles are offered). Following this is a 3-minute Behind the Scenes featurette, again with only Chinese subtitles. Some of the footage in the featurette of To directing is pretty interesting, though. For the video features, lastly we get a theatrical trailer in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen but no subtitles at all.
Also included in text format is a plot summary (in English) taken directly from the back of the DVD case, and a cast & credits list in Chinese text. Neither is particularly useful.
No ROM supplements have been included.