It's been a while since To and Wai's last collaboration, but apparently the time apart did them a lot of good. Mad Detective [Sun Taam] is another shining star on To's ever-growing list of first-class titles. Stylishly executed, cleverly scripted, and dare I say quite original. HK genre cinema doesn't get any better than this.
To's been on a winning streak these last couple of years and with Mad Detective, he's really at the top of his game. The film is filled with typical To elements but also benefits a lot from Wai's creative writing. Mad Detective is one of these rare films that makes you feel like you're watching something novel and original.
Ching Wan Lau, a To regular, is taking on one of the best roles of his career. Lau plays Bun, a detective who's equally brilliant as he is insane. While his methods of investigation are irregular, his behavior is condoned as he can solve case after case. The key to Bun's success is his ability to see behind people's masks. He sees every aspect of a single person as a separate individual. All goes well until Bun's retirement when his genius is quickly degraded to simple madness.
In Mad Detective, we see Bun chasing after a guy with no less than 7 personalities (though only three of them are dominant). The film is often changing perspectives which keeps the viewer well on their toes. One character is actually played by 8 different actors and To doesn't give too many warnings. But looking back, the film isn't that hard to follow or figure out and the concept never sits in the way of the basic storyline.
Visually To only seems to improve. There are plenty of awesomely framed shots, neatly lit and even though the film has an overall dark overtone, colors really jump out of the screen. And while To keeps on making films at a staggering rate, it's impressive to see how visually accomplished each and every one of his later films is.
Another definite plus is the soundtrack. Though often light in tone it doesn't hurt the atmosphere one bit, but only underlines the sad but dark overtones of Bun's madness. Strange sounds are brought together to form music, and sometimes quirky melodies are used, but the music never feels out of place. More so, it does an excellent job of defining To's style and helps to shape his films. Not as in your face as the soundtrack of Sparrow, but once you start listing you'll notice how weird it really is.
It would've been quite easy to push the film in one direction, but To manages to keep a healthy balance. One moment Bun's actions can be rather amusing, while a couple of minutes later there's a definite sadness to his character. And even though it's a dark and personal tale of a sick individual, the film is also able to keep its soft and creative edge, never choosing between being a character portrait or a purely story-driven narrative.
Mad Detective is a film where everything works out. Excellent cast, creative and original perspective, a solid storyline, stylishly visualized, and magnificently scored. The film has no weaknesses unless you prefer filmmaking to stay in more familiar territory. if so, I suggest you wait for one of the big Hollywood directors to turn it into a lifeless, soulless, and old-fashioned crime/drama. If that doesn't sound too appealing, be sure to check out To's Mad Detective. If anything, it's one of the best recent examples there's still plenty of life and creativity left in sculpting stories.
In combination with Sparrow, Johnnie To proves himself to be one of the most interesting directors in cinema today. His genre work is strong, comes with a very personal signature, it's seamlessly executed, and seems to lack any obvious weak points. Mad Detective is a definite recommendation.