As the Pang Brothers, Oxide and Danny have been frustrating filmmakers. For every Bangkok Dangerous or The Eye, there’s been a silly Bangkok Dangerous Nic Cage remake or The Eye: Infinity. So it’s refreshing to see Oxide go it alone and taking on a more adult, complex genre in this downbeat tale of a lonely gumshoe on the trail of a missing girl through the sweaty streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown.
Kwok plays the detective-for-hire Tam, not the smartest tool in the box (in fact, the film’s original title grades him as C+ Detective), but an enthusiastic character who hopes to get by with just a notepad and a camera phone. His case leads him stumbling blindly into apparent suicides that he quickly claims to be murders, much to the annoyance of his weary policeman buddy Chak (Kai Chi Liu).
The story is nothing new; as expected, Tam gets drawn deeper into a tangle of money and betrayal, but Kwok’s charisma pulls you along. He gives Tam a boyishness, a taste for adventure, that leads him down some dark alleyways as he struggles to crack the case despite his own shortcomings. This is where Pang really nails the genre; being a detective isn’t all guns and dames, but constantly going over the scant evidence until something clicks, or you get beaten up.
For Pang, the film is an exercise in evocative visuals combined with sticky tension, punctuated with the odd car chase or surreal comedic moment. Tam even gets a jaunty ‘theme song’ during the opening scenes. Although it goes down the supernatural route during the second half, the focus is always on the detective story, which plays out to a satisfying, if over-explained, conclusion. Thankfully, Pang has resisted breaking out the jump cuts and easy scares and has started an engrossing, mature franchise. In the forthcoming sequel, Tam is even promoted to B+.