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Breaking News DVD Review

Written by Milos Jovanovic

DVD released by Tartan Video

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Directed by Johnny To
Written by Hing-Ka Chan and Ting-Shing Yip
2004, Region 2, 90 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on October 22nd, 2007

Richie Ren as Yuen
Kelly Chen as Commisioner Rebecca Fong
Nick Cheung as Inspector Cheung
Siu-Fai Cheung as Eric Yeung
Shiu Hung Hui as Hoi
Suet Lam as Yip

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After a gang of robbers succesfully pulls off a heist in broad daylight, the local camera crews are "fortunate" enough to capture the embarassing defeat of the Hong Kong police force on live television. To combat this massive drop in publicity, the HKPD devises a plan to respond in kind — they will try to capture the hoodlums while being followed by the media, thus attempting to regain some of their stature. Before you know it, things begin to go pear-shaped — after several close-calls, the gang retreats to an apartment block and takes a family hostage. As the drama unfolds live on your local channel, cops, lead by the young, hard-headed commissioner Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen), and robbers, with a ruthless, but rather cunning Yuen (Richie Ren) in charge, engage in an exciting battle of wits, with plenty at stake.

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After John Woo, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark — three of the greatest "first wave" heroic bloodshed directors — left Hong Kong for greener Hollywood pastures (they have all returned since then, mind), the former British colony was left with Johnny To to uphold its reputation in hard-boiled gangster flicks. The rather-productive To, whose directorial tally is north of 40 as we speak, emerged in the mid-'90s as the next best thing in Hong Kong cinema, producing a number of entertaining cops-and-triads themed efforts with solid success. Breaking News is a film which attempts to break the usual mould of such pictures by offering a new, interesting approach — how would it all unwrap if we were watching it live as it happens?

In terms of cinematic style, To is much more Hark than Woo. Rather unlike Woo's poetic approach at the gangster genre, Breaking News moves along at breakneck pace, and proves to be good entertainment in general. To peppers the stew with a number of technical standouts — the opening gun battle is a one-take to end all one-takes, clocking in at around ten minutes in length, and towards the end he engages in some split-screen shenanigans which turn out quite decent.

What I didn't like is that at some points, the director lets style overtake the substance. The opening lead exchange might look good, but for the amount of bullets which are let loose, you would expect a much higher body count. Seeing cops and robbers engage in trench warfare with barely ten yards between them, hiding behind cars and generally missing each other despite a proper hail of ammo flying back and forth made me think more of Naked Gun than A Better Tomorrow. The same thing happens towards the end, when a similar scenario unfolds in a narrow hallway (how the hell do you miss two guys retreating in a narrow hallway from fifteen yards out, with all sorts of firepower split between a police brigade?).

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Also, Breaking News seems to have an identity problem. Half of the time movie veers towards the flat-out comical, while the other half things are gritty and serious. A clear example is found midway through the film, when the robbers make an impromptu lunch break. To dedicates good five minutes showing Yuen and his crew going all Jamie Oliver on us, with closeups of them chopping onions and slicing chicken fillets. It gets even better when the police force decides it would be good PR to have some lunch as well, which leads to a funny (yet pointless) little segue in which we observe the policemen stuffing themselves silly, with some lounge music as a background. Those scenes, while not bad itself, are very much at odds with much of the film, not to mention the fact that I'm not quite sure what message is To trying to relay here — vaguely, it might be some lecture on reality television, though much of it is lost in style exercises.

The acting performances are all solid. Hong Kong pop starlet Kelly Chen, who you might remember from the Infernal Affairs films, is as pretty as she is competent, and Richie Ren proves a solid villain as well. The kids from the hostage family are real scene-stealers, and HK cinema lovers will be pleased to see Simon Yam, a veteran of, amongst others, Woo's Bullet in the Head and Lam's Full Contact, cameoing as a police chief.

Still, an odd, uneven mix it might be, but a boring one sure it isn't. Clocking in at lean hour-and-a-half, Breaking News is a fun piece of action which will generally appeal to the mainstream-friendly crowd, and should also tickle the Hong Kong film afficionados. With the laughs and the thrills coming in at rapid pace, this flick, generally a lighter piece in To's oeuvre, should warrant at least a rental.

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Movie: 3 Star Rating Cover
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