Breaking News (2004) / Action-Drama
aka Daai si gin

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: Kelly Chen, Nick Cheung, Richie Ren, Cheung Siu-Fai, Lam Suet, You Yong, Li Haitao, Simon Yam, Maggie Siu
Director: Johnny To
Screenplay: Chan Hing-Ka, Yip Tin-Shing
Review published October 9, 2006

Probably more interesting for being a Johnny To (Fulltime Killer, Love on a Diet) film than as a commentary on the manipulation of the media in keeping citizens compliant, Breaking News nevertheless does offer a few things to like above and beyond the standard action thriller at its core.  Starting off with a well-choreographed, several minute long shot involving a shootout between the police and criminals, To explores the boundaries of his craft in a way that is always exciting, keying us in on the fact that he realizes the story in and of itself isn't likely to compel us without the additional oomph that a virtuoso director frequently provides. 

Starting off with a stakeout headed by Hong Kong police detective Cheung (Nick Cheung, Conman in Tokyo) of some deadly bank robbers, the cover is blown when one of the robbers gets into it with a traffic cop, causing a major shootout to emerge between the thieves and the cops, resulting in the deaths and injuries of many cops while the criminal get away.  Caught on film, the resulting video is played over and over on the television news, severely damaging the effectiveness of the police, who are now regarded by the Hong Kong citizens as largely incapable of keeping them safe.  Police Commissioner Rebecca Fong (Chen, Infernal Affairs), in an effort to turn the tide of public opinion, decides to take down the criminals by working directly with the media on taking them out, allowing each officer to wear a small camera to show the public why they should be trusted.  It seems Fong isn't the only one savvy enough, as the head criminal, Yuen (Ren, Silver Hawk), has a few tricks to manipulate the situation of his own.

While the storyline is provocative, the direction by To energetic, and the acting competent, what Breaking News really lacks to take it to the next level are a high-quality script and a strong presence at its core.  Although To manages to stretch the film out to the ninety-minute mark, the screenplay barely supports a major motion picture release, with long stretches of padding, mostly involving extended shootouts, cops running up and down halls, and a few side-stories that take more than their required share of time to develop.  Meanwhile, our rooting interest in the proceedings is limited to the plot at hand, as none of the characters are fleshed out enough for us to really be engaged by them.  Without actors charismatic enough to add anything to their limited roles, what we have left is a potboiler actioner slapped together without the necessary complexity to work as anything more than a directorial exercise.

Breaking News, like the media event at the heart of its story, never quite generates the intended results.  It's as slick and cool as you'd expect from To, but only in occasional bursts.  Underneath all of the action, it looks as though the filmmakers have something they want to say, but just lack the articulateness to say it.  Perhaps a more talented screenwriter could have developed this intriguing idea into something of greater substance, and To wouldn't have had to work as hard to keep us entertained.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo