Mad Detective

Mad Detective (San Taam) (2007)

Mad Detective first published by Little White Lies

“The gun plays a significant part”, says Bun (Lau Ching-wan), the former police detective called in by regional investigating officer Ho (Andy On) to help determine what has happened to policeman Wong and to his service revolver, both missing in action for the last 18 months – even if the gun itself has apparently been reused in several murderous robberies since.

In a sense Johnnie To’s latest film Mad Detective (aka San taaam), co-directed by Wai Ka-fai, tells a similar story to his previous PTU (2003) – an increasingly dark and desperate search for a policeman’s missing gun, exposing all manner of questionable moralities along the way. It fast becomes clear, however, that Mad Detective is a policier like no other, with a protagonist whose methods stretch the limits of unorthodoxy far beyond generic cliché. 

Forced into early retirement after going all van Gogh on his own ear, Bun is quite probably mad, but he also has an impressive crime-solving record, thanks to being blessed – or cursed – with an ability to see people’s ‘inner personalities’. And when Bun looks at Wong’s partner Chi-wai (Lam Ka-tung), what he sees is seven different people (played by seven different actors) all vying to keep a secret buried. If the whodunnit bit comes easy for Bun, keeping his wife May (Jenny Lin) happy, and the sceptical Ho on an even keel, will prove far more difficult. 

Cleverly scripted, brilliantly acted and masterfully edited, Mad Detective explores the very human capacity to lose one’s moral centre in a crisis. A schizophrenic mix of uneasy humour, aching drama and rug-pulling twists, the film races along so fast you will be left struggling to catch up later.   

“This investigation is driving everyone crazy,” suggests Chi-wai. Viewers will agree – but it is delirium of the most satisfyingly original kind.  

Anticipation: Johnnie To has a strong record of delivering the genre goods…

Enjoyment:…but rarely with such a satisfyingly complex set of brain-bending twists. 

In Retrospect:You’d be mad to miss it (and you may even want to see it more than once).

© Anton Bitel