I CORRUPT ALL COPS (2009) review

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Insanely prolific filmmaker Wong Jing (in 30 years, close to 200 films as a producer, a director and/or a writer) is known mainly for his shameless cash-grabbing, exploitative proclivities, extreme mining of film trends and taste for crass humor, but once in a while he decides to write and direct a film that can actually be taken seriously. 2002’s Colour of the Truth was one such film, the recent The Last Tycoon (2012) was another, and in between you have I Corrupt All Cops, which charts the circumstances in which Hong Kong’s Independant Commission Against Corruption came to exist. In the seventies, rampant corruption in the Hong Kong Police (which thus amounted to little more than another triad) was drastically reduced thanks to the efforts of agents from the newly-formed ICAC, who had to sustain tremendous pressure and threats.

Wong tells a realistic but factually loose version of that story through a ensemble cast of characters including a towering, grimacing Tony Leung Ka Fai as the corrupt chief of police, director Wong himself as his right-hand man, Eason Chan as his good-hearted but submissive laquey, Anthony Wong Chau Sang as a self-loathing corrupt cop who finds a sense of purpose in the ICAC, Alex Fong Lik Sun as a student who joins the ICAC after suffering at the hands of dirty cops, and Bowie Lam as the first and ill-fated head of the commisision, among others. The problem is that with its 1 hour 50 minutes running time, I Corrupt All Cops is neither long enough to be a sprawling and minute tableau of a decisive moment in history, nor is it short enough to be a concise, hard-hitting cop thriller. It thus sits uncomfortably in between, spending too much time on borderline goofy subplots (Eason Chan’s character, for instance, has nine wives because his bosses have him marry their mistresses, to give them an alibi), while glossing over potentially fascinating aspects of the true-life story : the ICAC’s actual genesis is a matter of mere minutes in the film, and its methods are never made clear, beyond some ingenious interrogation techniques.

Wong Jing also resorts a bit too much to thuddingly obvious metaphors : witness Bowie Lam’s righteous head of the ICAC talk about catching corrupt Police chiefs while actually catching a big fish in a lake, or Anthony Wong caughing blood after a beating and exclaiming that he has an ‘internal problem’. Still, there are some interesting, quirky flourishes, like how Tony Leung Ka Fai’s formidable, unhinged police chief is also a childishly sore loser in the games of football he frequently organizes, or how Wong Jing’s greasy bribe collector takes up a habit of dancing in the courtyard of the prison he gets sent to. The cast is how this film ultimately gels : not everyone seems to exist in the same film, but they all make a mark on some level. Eason Chan’s likeable performance is the film’s anchor, with Kate Tsui, as the only one of his ‘wives’ to love him, bringing a touching softness as a relief to all the greedy violence on hand. Tony Leung and Wong Jing on the other hand, are involved in an almost cartoonish, but very enjoyable double act, the former a overbearing, power-hungry womanizer and the latter an affable slimeball with a permanent glib smile. Anthony Wong Chau Sang has the most poignant character arc, going from self-loathing gambling addict to a changed man with restored dignity when fighting corruption, though not nearly enough time is spent on him. This is probably the only time in film history when we’d want a Wong Jing film to be 30 minutes longer. Imagine that.

Long Story Short : I Corrupt All Cops is a rare thing : a Wong Jing film with ambition and laudable intentions, that would actually have needed to be longer to better achieve its potential. ***

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