"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.
In direct comparison, the U.S. disc looks very slightly softer than the HK release, and if you really strain to see it in the fine details of the image seems to have a tiny bit more edge ringing. Both issues could be attributed to inferior compression quality, but the difference is very small. Both discs have some speckling on the source elements towards the beginning of the movie.
English subtitles have been provided in a large, garish white font. The translation seems adequate, with a few noticeable typos and grammatical mistakes but nothing severe enough to affect its overall coherency.
The Palm Pictures DVD comes with basically the same small selection of bonus features found on the Hong Kong release, given English subtitles for the first time. We start with an unexciting 2-minute deleted scene in non-anamorphic widescreen. Following this is a 3-minute Making of Breaking News featurette, straight from the movie's Electronic Press Kit. It's a fluffy promotional piece, but some of the footage of To directing the action scenes is interesting. Finally, we get a theatrical trailer in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic letterbox with English subtitles below the frame.
Also included are some random previews for unrelated releases from the same studio.
For ROM supplements there are a couple of weblinks to the Palm Pictures home page and the official Breaking News web site.