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Overheard (Qie ting feng yun)

dirs: Alan Mak and Felix Chong
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For most of this flick’s running length, I thought I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a certain momentum, and tension, and even if the characters were somewhat unbelievable, I didn’t mind that too much because I found their actions, and the repercussions arising from those actions, to be both believable and interesting.

Of course, then they had to fuck the ending up.

Oh, man, do they fuck the ending up. It’s an ending so bad it undoes almost all the good work of the preceding 90 minutes. It’s so trite, preposterous and contrived that it made me feel actively angry.

But I shouldn’t let that completely obscure the goodwill I’d previously been experiencing while watching the flick. Sure, shitty endings can leave a poisonous aftertaste, but they don’t always justify ripping the absolute guts out of a flick.

Overheard is a taut, mostly fascinating crime story about a group of surveillance expert cops who are trying to figure out what white collar crimes are being committed at, by or to a Hang Seng stock exchange-listed company.

Most of the time, the vast majority of the time, it’s a crime movie about white collar crime. White collar crime generally sounds like a fucking boring time at the movies, but done properly, it’s as interesting as any other kind of espionage / heist flick.

Though that’s not really applicable in this instance. The real problems, excluding the way the flick ends, arise within the team of cops tasked with the surveillance night shift.

Surveillance cops Johnny (Ching Wan Lau), Gene (Louis Koo) and Max (Daniel Wu) work very well together, so well that they consider each other blood brothers. Right there, what we already know, if you’ve watched enough Chinese / Hong Kong flicks, is that when these kinds of guys say things like “I’ll die before I betray my brothers” their word is almost always going to be put to the test.

So even a seemingly innocuous and non-violent plot regarding insider trading and industrial espionage is going to necessarily devolve into bloody carnage. This is Hong Kong, after all.

The cops get into trouble not because of the dangers they face spying on crims, but through their own needs, and their own susceptibility to temptation. Johnny and Max would seem to be stable, with Gene being a bit more chaotic, but they have their own problems preventing them from staying on the straight and narrow.

In a move so over the top and manipulative that it’s almost a parody in and of itself, not only does Gene have a kid suffering from cancer, he himself is suffering from liver cancer, and only has a year to live. So if he had no greedy incentive to be corrupt before, now he seemingly has every justification in the world.
And Max, who’s about to marry into tremendous wealth, the lucky bastard, is weak and easily led, but even he’s hoping to branch out in some way that makes him feel like a player and not a caddy.

Johnny is the natural leader, and is a moral and upstanding individual, but his protective feelings towards the other two shmucks compel him to get deep into the shit when their initial seemingly harmless corruption leads to all sorts of drama down the road.

And even though he’s the moral one, he’s involved with the wife of another cop, who, in the midst of his depression, confides in Johnny his hopes regarding salvaging the relationship with Mandy (Jingchu Zhang). Johnny nods and mutters all the friendly platitudes and “nah, man, I’m sure everything will be fine” all the while trying to figure out how to get her for himself. But he so doesn’t want to hurt this chap that he bends over backward, and installs surveillance devices, just to pacify him.

The crims don’t really figure into the conflict that much. The movie, when it’s working, thrives on the conflict between the three guys, especially when they’re trying to figure out how to protect themselves from what they’ve done, how to hide the fact that they’re doing so, and how to deal with the repercussions that arise for other people.

Many of the plot drivers arise, you never would have guessed it, from fragments of conversation overheard. This plays a role not only when they’re surveilling crims, but when they’re spying on other cops or each other. This proves both helpful and fatal, for the wrong people.

It’s all well paced, well thought out initially, and the distance between the American – Cantonese crim mastermind (Michael Wong) and our main characters is sufficient to make it more about their own personal failings than it is about the tired egotistical conflicts between combatants almost indistinguishable from each other (a staple of Hong Kong cop/robber dramas).

And then, when the shit really, profoundly hits the fan, our Heroes look like they’re going to pay the appropriate price for both the very wrong actions they take, as well as the seemingly ‘right’ ones. As horrifying as some aspects of it are (in a sequence that is over the top and excessive in a flick that avoided that kind of gore), it’s hard not to see it as just deserts.

Unfortunately, fucking unfortunately, after a fade to black, a scene comes back up with the depressing sub title “One Year Later”.

Everything that occurs from there onwards just doesn’t work, and undoes most of the good work previously achieved. The relationships between the main guys, and the prices they pay, individually and together, count for nothing in an ending that would be derided and roundly howled down even if occurred on Spongebob Squarepants. It depends on a) not one but two twists regarding people who should be dead, not being so, b) a criminal spontaneously becoming retarded who never indicated intellectual difficulties previously, c) police arresting a highly dangerous criminal boss, but for some reasoning deigning to let him drive himself to police headquarters, and d) an audience who just wants a tidy but meaningless ending to the story no matter how little it has to do with what came before. Maybe one or two of them would have been acceptable, but all together it’s just an overwhelming wave of shiteness.

It’s not an actor’s flick, except for Ching Wan Lau, who, not being as pretty as Louis Koo, has to actually act; it’s more about propulsive momentum. Still, Wan Lau, whose most famous performance probably comes from Johnnie To’s Mad Detective, gives the most believable and expressive (though laconic) performance in the flick). I almost forgave him for that ending, since he was so goddamn good.

I said almost. That fucking ending…

6 times the guy with cancer has kids with cancer, and his parents have cancer, and his cat has cancer, and the people watching the flick have cancer, everyone has cancer out of 10

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“If I stick to my lie, then everything will work out okay.” – Overheard.

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