Hong Kong is proud of its police force. The ‘safest city in Asia’ relies on an efficient and effective structure of law enforcement. But what if, somewhere in its upper echelons, the internal struggle up the ladder of power would lead to corrosion from within?
When a police van, its weapons and the five officers within it are capture by a terrorist group while the Police Commissioner is out of the city, it is up to Deputy Commissioner Lee (Tony Leung Ka Fai) to initiate Operation Cold War to salvage the situation. Given his son is one of those officers being held hostage, though, his second-in-command Sean Lau (Aaron Kwok) questions his superior’s judgement and plans to usurp him.
As Lau looks for support within the force for his play for power, he quickly finds there are other forces at work, with an agenda of their own.
The shadow of Infernal Affairs lies heavy over Hong Kong cinema. After the boon of the 80s, it took the 2002 crime masterpiece to thrust the industry back into the spotlight. That film quickly became a trilogy but, aside from the consistent work of Johnnie To, nothing else has had quite the international splash of Infernal Affairs, even after its Stateside remake as Scorsese’s Osar-winning The Departed in 2006.
Cold War is, almost unashamedly, in the vein of Infernal Affairs. Suited officers remote supervise dangerous operations, power struggles happen behind the scenes, rooftop meetings at gunpoint expose secrets. What is missing, though, is that level of emotional engagement.
Aaron Kwok’s Lau is an impassive figure, taciturn in the face of events spiralling out of control. In being distant, though, the film ends up lacking an emotional core. As the audience, we are kept at arm’s reach from caring about any of the characters, meaning the whole has a cold, procedural feel. The plot unravels in an intriguing manner, but it never quite involves.
There is plenty of excellent work on display. The central cast are rock solid and there are some eye-catching set-pieces, most notably a team of armed policeman taking on a group of terrorists armed with massive fireworks in a surprisingly gory confrontation. The staging of sequences is carefully thought-out and the filmmaking skill on display is never less than excellent.
The problem is that the film feels like a success only on a technical level. There is a coldness, perhaps appropriate given the title, that keeps the viewer from fully engaging. With so much information held back from the viewer, the distrust extends to all characters meaning none win sympathy and hence the tension is badly eroded.
Cold War is a solid piece of filmmaking, but its mechanical feel prevents it from reaching any great heights in storytelling. The shadow of Infernal Affairs remains stoically unlit.
DIRECTOR(S): Lok Man Leung, Kim-ching Luk | COUNTRY: Hong Kong | YEAR 2012 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16:9 | REGION: 4 / PAL | DISCS: 1