Breaking News

on January 01, 1900 by Mark Keizer
A sizzling, topical premise leads to a limp but likable movie in "Breaking News," from Hong Kong action director Johnnie To. The film, in which cops and robbers try to manipulate media coverage of their tense standoff, rarely gets more interesting than its logline. Much like "Cronicas," Cannes' other crime drama that failed to live up to billing, "Breaking News" begs for a street-level Western remake, filled with the clever twists and wicked dialogue that these films lack.

"Breaking News" begins with a bravura, single-take shot of a police shootout on the streets of Hong Kong. The bad guys get away, an embarrassment for the Hong Kong police department. With public trust in law enforcement at a new low, the cops vow to find those responsible. Lucky for us, then, that Detective Cheung (Nick Cheung) of the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau happens upon the hideout of the five-man gang. The building is quickly overrun with cops, but before an all-out assault can begin, Inspector Rebecca (singer-turned-actress Kelly Chen, called The Queen of Dance Music in Asia) has an idea, and arranges 24-hour TV news coverage of the police as they triumphantly nab the gang that humiliated them. So, with each officer wearing a wireless camera atop his helmet (an idea To completely squanders), the siege begins. Unfortunately, the building is also home to a second band of bad guys and the two combine forces, taking a father and his two children hostage. The film then coalesces into a media manipulation showdown, as Rebecca hopes to use the non-stop news coverage to chronicle Yuen's capture, while Yuen hopes the coverage will aid their escape.

It's a great idea, but what ultimately disappoints is the feeling that too many dramatic avenues are left unexplored. The audience never marvels at the ingenuity of the characters, nor acknowledges the absurdity of a world where such media-fueled mayhem is possible. There is one cute sequence, in which the evening news reports that Yuen and his men have cooked their hostages a delicious, high-class meal (which made no sense since the father says he never cooks, so why is there enough expensive food in his apartment to feed seven people?). Rebecca counters with buying her tired officers the best box lunch in Hong Kong, leading to news bites about how terrific the food is today. Ideas like that, where Rebecca knows a public relations victory means just as much as catching some bad guys, are where "Breaking News" really gets moving.

In his first all-out crime saga since "Expect the Unexpected," To never bores and there are some big-money shootouts. But in this information age, where no bad deed goes unpublished, and live car chases trump Presidential news conferences, To took a shot at a big fat bull's-eye and, for the most part, missed. Starring Richie Jen, Kelly Chen and Nick Cheung. Directed by Johnnie To. Written by Chang Hing Kai, Yip Tin Shing and the Milkyway Creative Team. Produced by Johnnie To and Cao Biao. A Palm release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 91 min

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