Young and reckless cop Cheung (Nick Cheung), and his CID partner Hoi (Hui Siu-Hung), stake out a band of thieves, when two traffic cops accidentally interfere and the situation escalates to a full blown shootout. The criminals - led by Yuen (Richie Ren) - escape in a hail of bullets followed by police officers. The chase takes them through the streets of Hong Kong, past a simple traffic accident where some news crews are filming. When the news crews see the pursuit, they follow, and everything after that is documented on live TV.
The criminals shoot several police officers during their escape, and in one case an officer falls to his knees and begs for mercy. They eventually escape, and the Hong Kong police is humiliated on live TV. Naturally this wont do. The chief of police demands immediate action!
Enter Deputy Commander Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen). She recognises the seriousness of the situation and suggests a new course of action: The police needs to get back at the criminals, and they need to do it in the public forum.
When the criminals new hiding place is exposed by Cheung and his colleagues, Fong orders every available PTU officer to the scene, and alerts the media. The criminals are about to get their comeuppance... and a very public one at that.
Johnny To must be the hardest working man in the Hong Kong film industry. Not only does he manage to put out half a dozen film each year, but he also manages to make them radically different, each with its own unique flavour, each with its own agenda, but bound together by a common thread: The Johnny To stamp of quality.
Before I get into the film, I just have to mention the opening scene. The whole opening, the stakeout gone wrong and the initial shootout, a 7 minute long sequence, is made up of one single shot! Breathtaking. My guess is, this is sort of a hint to the audience. This is after all a film about media manipulation, and I think the opening shot is Tos way of saying Look, Im not cheating you. Either that, or he was just in a playful mood. Actually Johnny To does seem a little more playful than usual. On top of the 7 minute long opening shot, he also goofs around with some split screen shots and he manages to throw in a joke aimed squarely at his Hong Kong film director colleagues.
After about 30 minutes, Cheung and his people arrive at the apartment complex where the criminals are hiding, and so the scene is set for the remainder of the film. A game of hide and seek ensues, between CID, PTU and the bad guys, who are forced to split up. Meanwhile the entire Hong Kong press corps is parked outside, and from her command post, not far away Rebecca Fong struggles to control the world.
Its interesting to see an action film set in this environment. The urban setting aside, this almost feels like the old westerns, where cowboys and indians would square off against each other around a fort or a band of wagons. Everybody would sneak around in the dark and wait for the inevitable attack, trying to outsmart each other. In Breaking News everybody sneaks around in a building, but the concepts the same, and it works very well. There are quite a few harrowing moments, but also a lot of humor.
Take this scene for example: When an explosion shakes the complex, another pair of criminals are chased out of hiding. They seek refuge in the apartment where Yuen and one of his partners are holed up. The occupants of the apartment are a simple minded cabbie (Lam Suet) and his two kids. During the exhausting siege the bad guys get hungry, and suddenly they find themselves in the kitchen fixing dinner. Next thing they know, the family is sitting side by side with 2 pairs of criminals and enjoying a meal. Truly a Kodak moment! Later when the little boy refuses to drink with thugs, his father lectures him and commands him to show respect to uncle killer and uncle bandit.
Theres a fantastic chemistry between the actors in these scenes. They put a smile on my face, while still maintaining that latent feeling of uneasiness. This is not the only time the film plays with both humor and danger, and its a testament to Tos directing skills that he always manages find just the right mix between the two.
Naturally the true villain here is the notoriously viscious Hong Kong press. Its painted as a mindless mass incapable any individual thought. Like a bunch of rabid dogs wholl jump after a piece of raw meat, never once wondering who threw it in the first place. The press as a whole, is somewhat ineffective as a bad guy, because we only get to see it as a faceless mass. It would probably have worked better if there was one clear bad guy, in the shape of a specific journalist, someone we could direct our anger towards.
Maybe thats because To is after those who use the press, rather that the press itself, but in all honesty this film is light on big themes, and the actual point of the story seems to get lost in the wake of its unquestionable entertainment value.
Breaking News is an incredible piece of virtuoso film making, but its nowhere near as poignant or insightful as it could have been.
This is especially a problem in the final act. Without revealing any details, let me just say that the finale should have been played out in front of the TV cameras, like everything else in the film, but it isnt. Because of this, the film sort of fizzles out.
However, I still found Breaking News to be an enjoyable experience. Another film to underline the fact that if youre looking for an entertaining Hong Kong movie, you need not look further than the closest Johnny To film.