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Friday, July 6, 2007
'Confession of Pain'
Painfully pretty Hong Kong noir
By KAORI SHOJI
There are some things at which the Asian male excels and that includes looking exceptionally fatigued. Not attractively or glamorously so but plain, I-just-got-off-a-16-hour-shift fatigue enhanced by the discomfort of public transportation and too much nicotine.
You look at a guy like that and you know that he will be really, really sexy with a bowl of noodles in one hand, a pair of chopsticks held sloppily with the other. This guy has no rivals; he has elevated dirt-tiredness to an art form. For a sampling, take a look at "Confession of Pain" — the latest Hong Kong noir vehicle directed by Andrew Lau. Not only do we get to see one, but two gorgeously tired guys that fairly reek of low blood sugar and an average four hours of sleep a night. They are: Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro. You're going to love them both. And if not, you will at least want to put noodle bowls into their thin, none-too steady hands.
"Confession of Pain" can be described as the flip side version of "Infernal Affairs" (Lau's breakthrough work, later brilliantly remade into "The Departed" by Martin Scorsese) — i.e., less political, less intricate, more stylized and character-study heavy.
Hei (Tony Leung) is the older, cool and collected cop in the Hong Kong police force newly married to Susan (Jing Lei Xu), and Bong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is the ex-cop who quit the force and now lives off petty detective work and his nightly bottle of gin. The pair were once close friends and colleagues, but a personal tragedy for Bong (his pregnant girlfriend committed suicide a few years back) and his subsequent self-destructive lifestyle put a strain on their relationship.
They start talking again when Susan's business-tycoon dad and his butler are found robbed and brutally murdered in their extra-security wired condo. Hei almost lays his hands on the perpetrator, who turns up dead, and the case begins to take on far more complicated aspects than a mere robbery. Concerned, Susan hires Bong to investigate, partly because she's afraid Hei is overtaxing himself and partly because she wants to find out what kind of a man her father was, personally. ("He was always a stranger to me.")
Rousing himself from his alcoholic stupor, Bong begins digging around for information, some of which seems to incriminate Hei. For his part, the exemplary older cop engages in odd behavior, like drugging his wife so that she is in a perpetual state of drowsy haziness. "It's funny, I'm sleepy all the time," she says. And he responds: "It must mean that you're very happy."
True to noir, the women in this movie have purely secondary roles, but they hold undisputed sway over the whole mood. Hei, for all his work-addicted ways and mysterious deeds, can't function without Susan dozing on the sofa in their apartment; for him, the knowledge that she's there fuels his existence and working day (VERY Asian male) and Bong finds solace in airy beer-hall waitress Fung (Shu Qi), whose apartment is crammed with Hello Kitty paraphernalia and who giggles at most things, including his lame jokes. Most of the time though, the men are either on the job or battling their demons at oak-top counters of well-lit, high-ceilinged bars.
Andrew Lau has a particular eye and penchant for interior design and "Confession" is full of his hallmarks like glistening chrome, elegant gunmetal walls, marble staircases and dark sofas that resemble sleek, velvety cats.
This is a Hong Kong we rarely get to see: noncongested, quiet and terribly chic, the characters sporting dark circles under their eyes and appropriately rumpled Zegna and clinking Baccara glasses. However, perhaps Lau was too taken up with design solutions; "Confession" is a case of looks over credibility, right down to the excellently choreographed blood spraying from a victim's temple as he's smacked with a mini Buddha statue (Oh that thin arc of red!).
A close inspection reveals a skimpy plot and holes in the storytelling. Why for example, have the police never checked up on Hei's records? It's also pretty inconceivable that Bong, who is as close to Susan as he is to Hei, remains oblivious to the fact she is being drugged. Above all, why did Susan's dad, who by all accounts was the most suspicious and hypercautious billionaire this side of the Pacific, keep so much cash on the premises and not have some bodyguards around? "Infernal Affairs" was dense with people, a team drama that reflected what worked and what didn't in a police organization; "Confession" feels remote and strangely filtered, as if everything happens inside the dreams of Hei and Bong, as if they are not cops, but just detective-fiction addicts. Still, Lau keeps the pace and action going until the last frame, though by then the story has long reached its foregone conclusion. On the other hand, few noir stories can claim total unpredictability — besides, when something looks this good, storytelling tends to take a back seat.
So "Confession" basically delivers, and it's already slated for a Hollywood remake. The Japanese title ("Kizu Darake no Otoko Tachi") by the way, means "Bruised Men" — an apt interpretation if there ever was one.