"The Constable" Chinese Theatrical Poster
Director: Dennis Law
Writer: Dennis Law
Producer: Dennis Law
Cast: Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Maggie Siu, Sam Lee, Lo Hoi Pang, Ken Lo, Niu Meng Meng, Maggie Li, Nick Zy Yi, Mia Chan Jing Yi, Eddie Cheung Siu Fai
Running Time: 96 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Everyone who’s a Hong Kong movie fan remembers the golden age of the 1980s. The decade was almost like a storm in a teacup, a relatively small area of land in China which was under British rule, somehow capable of churning out a seemingly unending amount of movies spanning everything from hard hitting action, to spooky horror, to triad dramas. Most of the post-2000 era has been spent with the fans of these movies wistfully hoping that one day that quality, even if it’s not quantity, of movie will return, and that same sentiment also happens to be shared by property investor turned film director Dennis Law.
Law felt that since the post-1997 handover of Hong Kong back to China, Hong Kong movies were losing their sense of identity. So with the best laid intentions, he essentially went on a one-man mission to make movies that bring it back. His filmography reads like a checklist of HK genre favorites – Fatal Contact and Bad Blood provide the straight up modern day kung-fu fix, Womb Ghosts dishes out the black magic horror tropes, ‘Fatal Move’ is the violent triad epic, and Vampire Warriors is the kung-fu horror comedy. Or at least, that’s what they’re all supposed to be.
The main problem with Law, both as a director and a writer, is that he’s not particularly good at either. His scripts are clunky and laden with unnecessary exposition, and his direction is usually flat and lifeless. Thankfully in most cases though, the subject matter is just enough to override the technical incompetence, with an impressive fight scene or an undead baby never too far away to distract us from the fact that what we’re watching is, in fact, pretty bad.
Law had his hand in making movies back to back from 2005 to 2010, however after that things went quiet, until 3 years later he re-emerged with his latest effort – The Constable. Once again Law is both writer and director, and as with his previous efforts, he fills the cast with plenty of familiar HK faces. Simon Yam plays the title of the piece, backed up by the likes of Lam Suet, Sam Lee, and Ken Lo. Surprisingly, The Constable, despite its title, is neither an action movie nor a triad thriller. Instead, we get a HK cop drama, following the life of Yam’s constable as he balances his daily routine of being a single father looking after a son who has downs syndrome (plus a hole in his heart, just for good measure), with his duties as a cop in the transportation department.
This might not sound particularly engrossing, but then, have you ever tried to sell a movie like Chungking Express to someone by describing the plot? Probably not, and many consider it to be the best HK movie ever made. The secret to a good drama is the execution, but of course no one is ever going to confuse Dennis Law with Wong Kar Wai, and this becomes evident very quickly with The Constable. Very, very quickly. Despite having Yam in the titular role, the idea of Law directing a drama he wrote himself was always going to be a losing battle, a bit like asking a 5 year old to compose a classical masterpiece. Sure enough at the end of the first half hour not much has happened except for a series of drawn out shots involving Yam catching a bus, sitting on the bus, getting off the bus, preparing a meal for his son (that involves a series of never ending static shots watching him chop up vegetables), brushing his sons teeth etc. etc. It goes on and on.
This plotless meandering can be pulled off under the skillful direction of someone like Wong Kar Wai or Ann Hui, but here the details are dull and meaningless, the lack of anything really being said by the scenes only drawing more attention to the lack of talent behind them. Somewhere in-between an attempt at a flimsy plot is introduced, the carer who looks after Yam’s son has a boyfriend, played by Sam Lee, who gets caught up with some gangsters led by Ken Lo, who turn out to be planning (surprise, surprise) a bank heist. Of course Yam gets involved somewhere along the way, and things plod lifelessly towards one of the most unexciting shootouts committed to film in recent years.
Throughout the movie Yam’s character is unwaveringly perfect, to the point where a more fitting title would have been The Saint. Cops on the beat stop in awe when he prevents a girl from being mugged, proclaiming “Could a traffic cop be that brave?” Not soon after this incident, he walks into a public toilet and stumbles upon yet another crime in progress, giving him another chance to do good and pull off some sub-par HK style choreography. It’s like crime simply finds Yam’s character of the constable, or it could just be that lazy scripts have a tendency to find Yam the actor. In another example of poor execution, a junior cop watches Yam running around a track to get fit and shooting off some rounds. In the next scene, the junior cop is doing exactly the same in almost identical shots. We get it, he’s been inspired by Yam’s shining determination to be the best cop he can be, but does it really need to be this blatant?
The brief sudden bursts of action only serve to drive home what a misguided effort The Constable is. Mid-way though there’s a foot chase involving Yam & Suet in pursuit of a thief and what’s believed to be the thief’s victim. The chase ends up on the edge of a rooftop for no conceivable reason other than for Yam to prove how far his character is willing to go in pursuit, while amusingly the hefty Suet is given an elevator fight scene with a woman in high heels. While the outcome of both Yam and Suet’s scenes point to something interesting being developed for the story, especially with the appearance of a bag filled with cash, as soon as the scene finishes it’s never touched on again and seemingly forgotten about.
There’s really not a lot to recommend The Constable. It gets points for being a Cantonese spoken movie in the ever increasing Mandarin mainland market, and its setting of Shenzhen, out near the borders of the New Territories, give the movie a refreshing look over the countless HK central set action movies that seem to dominate the big releases these days. However these are small glimmers of light in an otherwise painfully dull 100 minutes, and ultimately if Law is going to keep on making movies, he’d be better off filling them with fight scenes and hopping vampires, which while not particularly high brow, are at least entertaining.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3/10