Oxide Pang's solo projects (Basic Love, Som And Bank) are always worth checking out. The Detective 2 is his first solo sequel though, which raises the question whether Oxide Pang would be man enough to withstands the usual pitfalls of sequels and whether he would be able to deliver a worthy successor to his first Detective film. Opinions may differ of course, but I believe he succeeded surprisingly well.
While the Western title doesn't really give away too much about the film itself, the original title is a bit richer in meaning. In B+ Jing Taam our detective has moved up a rank from C+ to B+, making him a little less gullible and overall more serious when it comes to solving his cases. In the first film he pretty much solved the riddle on good luck alone, here Tam puts in a little more effort before catching the bad guys. It's a rather funny bit of wordplay that leaves an interesting opening (A+) for a third and final film in Pang's Detective series.
What struck me while watching The Detective 2 is that Oxide Pang is pretty much making his own spin on the trademark Johnnie To flick here. It may differ a little in style, characters and pacing, but the unique mix of stylish noir with in-your-face quirky interludes is unmistakably there. The quirky elements surface in several scenes, from deadpan comedy to silly Thai pop songs, they clash heavily with its stylish counterparts but somehow the combination of both works wonders.
As for the story itself, don't expect too much of it. The Detective 2 follows a tried and tested pattern where two seemingly unrelated stories are brought together, mixing up a case which is then solved by detective Tam by piecing all the bits and pieces of information together and filling in some notable gaps with magical detective power. It works well enough, but it's hardly the main attraction of Oxide's latest film.
Visually Oxide Pang knows his trade. The Detective 2 might lack a little of the much appreciated experimentation of the first film and its overall look is just a little slicker, but the film still features a very welcome collection of beautifully shot scenes. Detailed and rich backgrounds, wide and well-framed shots, excellent use of lighting, watching an Oxide Pang film is usually a feast for the eyes and once again he delivers.
The soundtrack is, as always, a different story. I was a little better prepared this time around though, and found the quirky intermission songs extremely entertaining. One silly Thai song in particular turns the atmosphere of a single scene 180 degrees around. It's a solid example of the way a soundtrack can influence the atmosphere of a scene all by itself. Classroom material if you ask me, which elevates the film to a whole new (or at least different) level in certain scenes.
The acting is strong too, with Aaron Kwok putting in another solid performance as the main lead. But in the end it's actor Kai Chi Liu that makes the biggest impression here. He's an actor that's grown with age, cultivating strong facial features that allow him to wear deadpan expressions and still look like he's telling a whole story with one single glance. It would be nice to see him carry a whole film rather than have him act as mere support for the leads. Kwok and Chi Liu prove a golden duo once again and play an essential part in the underplayed comedy of The Detective 2.
If you're looking to be entertained by a well-developed detective story then Oxide's film might be a little on the fluffy side. Sure there are a couple of twists and halfway through the film there are a number of valid choices that could all be made into the true killer (these days I don't even bother with trying to guess who's the killer any more), but in the end you've all seen it before, probably even better.
But if you look past its somewhat simplistic plot there lies a lovely film, balancing two very different moods and blending them against all odds into a very stylish and entertaining film. Be prepared though as the quirky elements might come as somewhat of a surprise and might put you off at first. More seasoned viewers (and/or Johnnie To fans) will recognize them as the treats of this film though, settling for a very atmospheric and enjoyable experience.
The Detective 2 is a very solid sequel, somewhat different in tone and execution as the first film, but that's not really a bad thing. Oxide Pang is on to something here and I for one hope that the third film will bet made to complete this grade scale trilogy. If Oxide Pang can get Kwok and Chi Liu on board again for the final instalment, there's very little that can go wrong I think. Recommended, but watch C+ Jing Taam first.