Tuesday, October 24, 2006

OPERATION UNDERCOVER: Intelligent Gangsta Flick

Cast: Eric Tsang, Francis Ng, Jordon Chan, Julian Cheung, Shawn Yue and Sonja Kwok
Director: Marco Mak
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

The movie poster
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? A title like Operation Undercover conjures memories of Hong Kong triad thrillers like the Infernal Affairs and Election series. Granted that the plot is somewhat similar to the previous undercover cop flicks, this one is more 'middle-of-the-road' in its approach. Unlike the gritty and gruesome Infernal Affairs stories, Operation Undercover (or “Wu Ho”) treats cops and gangsters like everyday people, providing insights into their family and romantic lives – and of course, the lengths they go to outwit each other.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? When the movie opens, we see how the triads of Hong Kong have become so pervasive and powerful that they even dare to abuse the police. To counter this threat, Police Superintendent Wai (Miu Kiu Wai) launches Operation Crouching Tiger, dispatching 1,000 undercover cops to infiltrate the triads led by a seemingly retired mob boss.
Two years later, the effects of this operation are being felt. The mob's lieutenants, Jim (Eric Tsang), Walter (Francis Ng), Tommy (Chi-Lam) and Fei (Jordan Chan) get busy flushing out the moles in their organisation and the murder of one particular agent named Eric sends shockwaves to Wai. This sets off a battle of wits between Wai and the mobsters to bring the other down.
“If someone breaks the law but nobody knows about it, then it is like the crime never happened,” Jim tells Wai. However, Jim is aware of Wai's past as an undercover agent and he has managed to dig up a dark secret in Wai's past. And he is using it as a trump card...

HIGHLIGHTS: Operation Undercover is an intelligent movie about the cat-and-mouse games that the cops and gangsters play each day. All the main characters are properly developed with subplots about their families and love lives. Fei, for example, is a doting husband despite his tough and street-smart demeanour, and the chink in Walter's armour is his love for his only son, a gifted violin student. However, the most touching subplot is the one about Jim's relationship with a pretty decorator (Sonja Kwok) whom he has fallen in love with. In his romantic trysts with his new-found love, Jim lets his guard down and...
Directed by Marco Mak, Operation Undercover is not peppered with the usual fight sequences that such movies have every few minutes of their footage. Instead, the thrills and tension lie in the game of one-upmanship that the gang leaders play against each other to gain territory and power. And some of these can be intriguing even to those who are familiar with such movies.
Mak is fortunate to have an experienced cast who are veterans in such roles. Eric Tsang, Francis Ng and Jordan Chan sail through their roles smoothly, getting both our sympathy and admiration. Julian Cheung and Shawn Yue support credibly as the younger additions to the cops-and-triads genre while Sonja Kwok manages to steal a few scenes too. A pounding music soundtrack helps to heighten the suspense, and yes, there is a nice delicious twist at the end, in case you are wondering.

LOWLIGHTS: The lack of action sequences may be a put-off to some action fans, but on the whole, they should be satisfied with the gripping narrative.

THE LOWDOWN: Operation Undercover is not just another addition to the already crowded list in the genre. It complements the list.


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