Year of release: 2004
screen caps courtesy of NixFlix
Johnnie To seems to be one of the few truly reliable directors left in Hong Kong, and Breaking News is no exception. Once again, he proves that his style cannot be piegonholed. The film feels closer in tone to his earlier works like Heroic Trio, but still has the artistic quality of his recent movies like PTU.
Breaking News -- like many of Johnnie To's best-known films -- tells a cops-and-robbers story. After the police are embarassed by an incident caught on tape of a group of robbers (led by Richie Jen) getting away, an upstart officer (Kelly Chen) suggests that the cops use the media to their own advantange. During a standoff with the robbers inside an apartment complex, both the police and the criminals try to use the swarms of media represenatives gathering outside of the building for their own ends.
The movie starts out with a bang -- a seven-minute-long continuous shot of the robbery. Sure, it's gimmcky, but it works, and the movie never really lets up from there. Breaking News isn't anything deep; it seems like more of an excuse for To to show off than anything else. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Johnnie To could probably make a movie about two guys eating hamburgers and make it seem interesting. Also, the actors take their work seriously, and this helps make the film more believable.
Even Nick Cheung -- who is normally pretty annoying in my book -- does a good job of portraying an officer who just wants to catch the robbers, not put on a show for the media. Kelly Chen doesn't really do too much, but luckily the other actors in the scenes she's in (most notably Richie Jen) pick up the slack. Several of To's long-time collaborators like Hui Siu Hung (who plays Nick's partner) and Lam Suet make appearances as well. Of course -- what would a Johnnie To movie be without Lam Suet? Here, he plays a beleagured father who forms a strange friendship with the robbers after they take him hostage. It's a relatively small part, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
I think I can sum up my review of Breaking News with this: if you enjoyed Johnnie To's "lighter" fare like Fulltime Killer, you'll like this movie. It's that kind of film where you can't really explain exactly why you like it -- you just do. On the other hand, I can see where people might be disappointed with or outright hate this movie. But that's one of the great things about Johnnie To. While most Hong Kong film-makers are playing it safe in these days of dwindling box office returns, To is always willing to take a chance and try something different, and that is why he is one of the most vital directors working anywhere in the world today.