DETECTIVE CHINATOWN 2 (2018) review

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As promised at the end of 2015’s delightful and very successful Detective Chinatown, the unlikely duo of straight-laced amateur detective Chin Feng (Liu Haroan) and his loud, unhinged distant cousin Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang) are back, this time in New York, where they have been summoned by crime boss Uncle Seven (Kenneth Tsang), along with the other top detectives on a high-standard crime-solving app named “Crimaster”. Uncle Seven’s son was recently killed in a temple, and his heart was removed from his body while he was unconscious but still alive; the crime boss thus offers five million dollars to whoever can catch the killer. Assisted by Chinese-American police officer Chen Ying (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), the rag-tag bunch of detectives – which includes brilliant hacker Kiko (Shang Yuxian), Japanese dilletante Hao Yetian (Stashi Tsumabuki), as well as an Indonesian witch and many more – soon establish a link between this case and the murder of a woman, whose liver was harvested from her body while still alive. This makes Song Yi (Xiao Yang), an illegal Chinese immigrant who was spotted at both crime scenes, the primary suspect. Now it’s a chase to whoever will catch him first and collect the prize money – but Chin Feng knows this is too simple.

Detective Chinatown was an infectious mix of engaging crime-solving, inspired physical comedy, visually ambitious set pieces and a dark undercurrent. With this sequel, director Chen Sicheng expectedly serves the same cocktail, but this time some of the ingredients are less fresh, and the dosage is a little off, resulting in a solid but less delightful film. After the first film’s Gaston Leroux-inspired murder behind closed doors, which was unraveled little by little until a striking revelation, the sequel’s central mystery is (expectedly) derived more from American serial killer thrillers à la Se7en: a killer with a city-spanning endgame inspired by ancient texts. It’s a reasonably engaging riddle, though one that’s much more predictable, and leads to a revelation that is over-the-top and ridiculous, but not in a voluntary way. As if to compensate for the fact that this sequel’s mystery is comparatively less stimulating, Chen Sicheng doubles down on spectacular metaphorical depiction of Chin Feng’s mental process: like the Michael bay version of the equivalent scenes on the BBC’s Sherlock, we witness his deductions mapped out like Doctor Strange‘s urban mind trips, a consistently amusing sight indeed.

The comedy, once again, will only be palatable to those who can appreciate Wang Baoqiang’s rubber face, whiny pitch and paroxystic comedic proclivities. But beyond that expected caveat, this sequel is also a notch below the first film, as it too often resorts to heavy-handed references (the police chief is an oaf who looks exactly like Donald Trump,  how exquisitely topical), tired sexual gags (cross-dressing! ass-grabbing! gay bikers!), and the usual Chinese fixation on black people being either fat and affable, or fat and affable and gangsta. Nevertheless, there is a few inspired gags, especially involving Wang Chengsi and Yang Jinci as a pair of dim-witted goons, or Wang Xun as their vain and devious boss.

You guessed it: set pieces are also a notch down from the original. As if constrained by the more organized (and no doubt more expensive to shoot in) setting of New York – when compared to Bangkok – Chen Sicheng and action director Wu Gang can’t match the gloriously chaotic and visually stimulating action scenes of the first film. There is a hilarious and memorable scuffle in traffic, with Wang Baoqiang fighting henchmen while wearing a Donald Duck outfit (inspired perhaps by My Lucky Stars), but nothing else likely to stick in the mind, except maybe, for the wrong reasons, a cringey carriage chase on Times Square, with the heroes appearing on the big screens at the same time – an idea that would have better left alone in the writer’s fanny pack.

The duo of Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran is once again very effective, and they are joined by a dialed-down Xiao Yang, who was already in the first film but in a completely different, much more comedic role. It’s good to see old dogs Kenneth Tsang and Yuen Wah pop up in extended cameos, but it’s very weird to see Michael Pitt act like in a Tommy Wiseau film as a coroner/hospital director mooning over the admittedly enchanting Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who here shows much more promise than in her debut Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. Though her character is repeatedly mentioned, Tong Liya only appears briefly in the end credits. As often in Chinese films in English-speaking settings, English dialogue is an issue, with Shang Yuxian particularly off-kilter in her delivery.

So Detective Chinatown 2 is a notch below the first film, but being a notch (I have been saying “notch” a lot in this review) below excellence is nothing to scoff at. Once again, the film leaves a dark amoral thread dangling on purpose, with a lateral revelation that isn’t so much a twist as the promise of a side road to be explored later. Though the first film’s similar dark dangling thread is not explored in this sequel, a coda once again promises a new installment, to be set in Tokyo. Let’s hope Detective Chinatown 4 heads for Paris’ Chinatown, as we would love to see Wang Baoqiang gesticulate around our childhood neighborhood.

Long Story Short: Detective Chinatown 2 isn’t as tightly-scripted and visually inventive as the first film, but it’s still a solidly entertaining sequel. ***

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2 Comments

  1. Dash Rendar

     /  March 3, 2018

    I actually enjoyed this movie more than the first one, yet I still can’t bear Tang Ren’s whiny voice pitch. It’s just grating my ears and very annoying. At times I was surprised by the film’s darker moments, when it became borderline horror, especially with that strange, yet great music in those scenes.

    On a side note I want to add, that I like your blog very much and since the end of “lovehkfilm” I was wondering where to get my asian movie reviews now. Seems I found a great source!

    Reply
    • Thank you, I truly appreciate!
      And yes, though I have high tolerance for Tang Ren’s constant whining, I can absolutely understand how it would get on most people’s nerves.

      Reply

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