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Breaking News (HK 2004)

Director : Johnnie To
Producer : Johnnie To, Cao Biao
Cast : Richie Ren, Kelly Chen, Nick Cheung, Cheung Siu-Fai, Hui Siu-Hung, Lam Suet

A police operation to apprehend a gang of thieves goes badly wrong and is video footage of the mess is televised. To regain the public’s confidence and to counteract the negative press, the Police decide to use the arrest of the gang as a publicity exercise. When the second arrest attempt also goes wrong and the gang hole themselves up in a block of apartments, the police manipulate the situation to make themselves look good. When the gang realise what is happening outside they decide to contact the press themselves…

by Martin Cleary

Breaking News is a thoroughly entertaining satire on the use of ‘public relations’ and the marketing of public services. Director Johnnie To (currently receiving plaudits for his ‘Election’ films) mixes a decent amount of action and flashy camerawork to provide a film that is fun

There’s no hanging around as To dives straight into the action, opening the film in one long camera shot – with no cuts – as the gang of thieves make a run from the police in a shootout on the street. It’s a very cool opening. From here we get what is essentially the films whole concept: that the police will use the arrest as a publicity exercise. Although there’s a certain satirical level that the film hits on several occasions (regarding the media, manipulation of images, political spin etc)

Breaking News is actually quite a light-hearted action thriller. The film has a real playful feel to it and it’s a light-heartedness that also allows us to overlook several large plot-holes. Breaking News actually takes a lot from Hollywood thrillers (and it’s no surprise to hear that a US remake is being discussed) although Hollywood is never this good on this sort of budget. With such a clever central premise To seems to want to get right on with the story and the film moves at such a quick pace that it rarely flags and the ninety minutes fly by – although there are disadvantages in this approach. The main disadvantage is the reliance on cinematic stereotypes – the cop who is obsessed, the cop’s partner who is no longer fit for duty, the honourable criminal and the determined female cop – but these serve to allow us to get on with the story rather than worry too much about characterisation.

The cast is fine with what they have to do – Richie Ren is suitably cold and menacing as the head of the gang and Kelly Chen gets to look all serious (but rather nice!) in pursuing him. Nick Cheung gets to act all serious as the cop-about-to-cross-the-line and he does a fine job too. There’s a quick appearance from Simon Yam that doesn’t really add to the film but sometimes
it’s nice seeing these familiar faces pop up. The real star of the show is the flashy visual storytelling. The brilliant one-take opening shot is the first of many showy camera angles and pans throughout the film which get to show just where everyone is in relation to each other. The use of the ‘re-cut’ footage shown on television also works well and it’s a pity that
this was not developed further and used a bit more. Breaking News is a nice solid entertaining HK movie, it’s not exactly profound or ground breaking but it entertains for it’s whole duration and sometimes that’s exactly what you want in a film.

Initially it feels slightly disappointing as you realise that this isn’t going to be as gritty as it seems, but then Johnnie To seems to throw out any baggage that might slow him down in storytelling. Breaking News certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome (there’s none of the old ‘you think it’s all over but we’re going to drag it out for another fifteen minutes’ type of ending) and it leaves you wanting more – which is rare in these types of films.

Plot : 4/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 4/5

Notable Scenes
- The thieves get away in a shootout with the cops
- Footage is edited for television
- Leaving the building ‘under cover’
- The cat meets the mouse (?!)

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Breaking News

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