REVIEW: The Constable (2013)

Kuen (Simon Yam) is a commander in charge of the Kowloon police vehicle pool. By day he supports Hong Kong’s police officers in their duties, and by night he returns by bus to Shenzen to care for his intellectually challenged son. In a series of vignettes and encounters, Kuen assists his colleagues, fights random crimes, and does his best as a single parent.

Really that is about it. The Constable is a weirdly misguided film from beginning to end. It’s a highly episodic affair that lurches from random action scene to gentle melodrama and back again. In each scene Kuen is revealed to be essentially selfless and faultless. He single-handedly takes down a gang of street thugs. He cares for his son, who has both a serious heart defect and down’s syndrome. He gives zen-like advice to his colleagues, as well as Lin – the young woman who watches over his son Chung during the day. The various scenes are thrown up after one another so haphazardly that there’s very little momentum to the story, and the characters lack so much depth that the story basically doesn’t matter anyway. It also has foreshadowing about as subtle as a brick in the face. It feels almost mean-spirited to characterise the film in this way, but in all honesty its lack of ambition has done it for itself.

Simon Yam is an inherently watchable actor, of course, as are many of his supporting co-stars including Lam Suet, Wang Ziyi and Maggie Shiu. By casting so many actors better known for their collaborations with Johnnie To and his Milkyway Image production company, The Constable almost gets away with rubbing a little of that production house’s cache onto its surface. Likewise there is the occasional bit of outstanding photography that suggests a more interesting film than actually exists. It is all superficial, however, and ultimately there’s not a lot going on here.

What story there is generally winds up incredibly predictable. There are also two movies going on at the same time. One is a tragic drama about a father sacrificing his career for a son who is eventually going to die no matter what he does. The other is a formula action film with hand-to-hand combat and explosive shoot-outs. The two do not interact well, and the film spends much of its running time frantically switching from one genre to the other.

You have to admire Kuen’s uncanny ability to walk blindly into crimes. He does it about four times in the space of 90 minutes, in one case even discovering his son’s carer’s boyfriend is actually a bank robber. Most thrillers play off outrageous coincidences to push their stories forward, but the trick is to do it fast and dramatically enough that the audience doesn’t notice. The Constable is neither fast nor dramatic, so the coincidences appear trite and obvious instead.

I do appreciate writer/director Dennis Law’s attempt to break out of the ghetto of cheaply made horror films and thrillers which have previously dominated his career. As I noted, there’s a good cast here and some excellently shot moments. That’s all simply not enough. Hong Kong generates many outstanding films each year, and as an actor Simon Yam has headlined a bunch of tremendously entertaining dramas, action films and thrillers. The Constable is not one of them.

This review was originally published at The Angriest.

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