Director – Fung Chi-Keung – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 104m
When a member of a gang of jewel thieves is found dead, the murder suspect may not be the obvious person – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th
Following a jewellery store heist, a gang of robbers are to meet to split the loot. But someone gets to gang member Homer Tsui first, slits his throat and makes off with the bag of jewellery. There are no witnesses unless you count the pet macaw which saw the whole thing. When gang leader Sean Wong (Louis Koo) arrives, Tsui is already dead.
Senior Inspector Yip (Philip Keung – Tracey, Li Jun, 2018) is convinced Wong is guilty. “He’s harsh”, says pretty young officer Charmaine (Cherry Ngan), “but he takes care of you.” However, Officer Larry Lam (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) seems to get on the wrong side of Yip all the time. Lam is passionate about caring for animals and runs a cat sanctuary in his spare time, but he’s got himself into debt with a loan shark setting it up and following an early morning run in with the moneylender arrives late to the crime scene of Tsui’s murder, not to mention slipping on some blood and falling flat on a corpse.
Unbeknown to Yip, Lam decides to take the macaw under his wing and Charmaine does the paperwork for him. He hears the parrot say things that convince him that Wong, although the obvious suspect, is not in fact the killer. He takes the parrot to a bird expert (Annie Liu) who tells him it’s highly intelligent. She suggests he teach it a simple language like French or English, but it refuses to learn.
As cops Lam and Charmaine are questioning or tracking down witnesses to the robbery, suspect Wong is doing the same with gang members – some of whom have disappeared.
Witnesses include Sandy Yeung (Fiona Sit), a store employee paralysed from the waist by being thrown against the sharp edge of a glass case, now a wheelchair-bound local church volunteer who has forgiven her attacker and her security guard boyfriend Tony Ho (Andy On) who is furious about her injury and seething with hatred. Bull Yiu (Patrick Tam) is a reformed thug whose mother had a fatal heart attack when a gun was fired.
Gang members include Auyeung (Sam Lee) whose launderette assistant girlfriend is pregnant and getaway driver Redhead (Ling Man-Lung) who seems to be constantly mopping his sweating neck.
Lam starts to suspect that Inspector Yip might be somehow involved in all this… It’s one of those whodunits that makes you keep shifting your ideas as to who the killer might be and why. When it gets to where it’s going, I really couldn’t see it coming. As a cops and robbers murder mystery, it meanders a lot however it has other strengths.
Some of the characters are well delineated. Lam is far from your typical cop while Wong has psychological issues which cause him to keep seeing ants when there are none there. There’s a touching loyalty between Wong and his gang members, so much so that it looks less and less likely that one of them could be the killer (but then, this is one of those movies where you never can tell). The wheelchair-bound. Christian woman turns out more complex than she first appears too.
And then there’s Joy (Jessica Hsuan) who lives in a five person flatshare with three elderly flatmates, the fourth having recently died, who takes Wong in as a new lodger without any idea of his criminal background. Her dealings with him are a fascinating detour which could almost have made an entirely separate film. And Donkey (Bong Chan Kok), Inspector Yip’s snitch. And a common burglar (Ng Siu Hin – Tracey, Li Jun, 2018) who turns up at the wrong place at the wrong time.
There are the clever surprises too, like a bombing that seemingly comes out of nowhere, Wong’s raid on a private club to access security camera footage and Lam’s running into the missing Redhead whilst doing surveillance on Inspector Yip’s house.
It may not be the greatest police procedural ever made, but it does what it sets out to do with never a dull moment. Memorable characters get strong performances to match while clever plot twists keep you guessing ’til the end. All in all, highly engaging and surprisingly enjoyable.
A Witness Out Of The Blue plays online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th.