Last year’s largest grossing film at the Hong Kong box office – the smash-hit Mad Detective – is one of the freshest and most satisfying films from that country in a decade. The traditional Hong Kong police film is turned on its head: the imaginative twist being our hero – Detective Bun (a role created for Lau Ching Wan) – who has the ability to ‘see’ people’s inner personalities or “hidden ghosts”. Breaking new ground and establishing new cinematic rules, Johnnie To’s latest giddily entertaining collaboration with Wai Ka Fai radically raises the level of storytelling in modern film.
Detective Bun (Lau Ching Wan) was recognised as a talented criminal profiler until he sliced off his right ear to offer as a gift at his chief’s farewell party. Branded as ‘mad’ and discharged from the force, he has lived in seclusion with his beloved wife May (Kelly Lin) ever since. Strangely, Bun has the ability to ‘see’ a person’s inner personality, their subconscious desires, emotions, and mental state. When a missing police gun is linked to several heists and murders, hotshot Inspector Ho (Andy On) calls on the valuable skills of his former mentor Bun to help unlock the killer’s identity. However, Bun’s unorthodox methods point to a fellow detective and take a schizophrenic turn for the worse…
Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice, multiple prizewinner at the Asian Film Awards 2008, and winner of Best Screenplay at the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards 2008, Mad Detective has been simultaneously thrilling multiplexes and cerebrally challenging arthouses in the UK and across the world – The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present the UK DVD debut and also our first ever Blu-ray.
The Masters of Cinema’s Blu-ray release of Mad Detective presents the film in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-layer disc. The image is presented in 1080p and has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The disc is also region free.
MOC’s first Blu-ray title presents a transfer that’s nothing short of stunning, presenting a consistently sharp, very film-like picture. The film has a dark look to it and uses a heavy amount of blues, which look absolutely gorgeous here. The film’s other colours look beautifully saturated, reds looking great, and black levels are perfect for the majority of the film (they can come off a tad gray a few times.) Detail is incredible as best evidenced on close-ups on the actors.
The film is only a couple of years old, so it’s not too much of a shock that the print looks just about perfect, with nary a scratch or mark on it. It looks wonderful, and takes advantage of Blu-ray's capabilities.
While the specifications indicate four audio tracks I could only find three on here, all in Cantonese: A Dolby Surround 2.0 track, a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, and a DTS-HD 5.1 track. Missing is the Dolby Digital 5.1 track listed on the back of the packaging.
To my understanding director Johnnie To prefers the Dolby Surround track, and I’m assuming that’s why it was included here. It’s a decent track and works for the film, presenting adequate sound quality and moderate surround use. But the other tracks are far better.
I only sampled the TrueHD track, and it sounds very good, but most will want to probably go with the DTS-HD track. It makes great use of surrounds, and sound quality is vastly superior to the other tracks. The increased amount of detail and subtle effects are quite impressive and noticeable. Just comparing the opening where Bun is slicing a pig carcass presents a great comparison. The Dolby Surround track presents rather bland, almost hollow sound effects, concluding with the pig dropping with a dull thud. Moving up to the DTS-HD track you’ll find a significantly different audio presentation, the swipes at the pig presenting sharp, distinct slices, and then the pig hitting the ground with a loud bang. Volume and range is fantastic, the surrounds present some wonderful subtle effects, and it’s just so sharp and crisp overall.
To may prefer the 2.0 track, but the DTS-HD presentation is hard to say no to. It really goes the extra little bit.
There’s a few supplements found on this release, which are good, but disappointingly they have very little to do with the actual film.
First up is a 33-minute Q&A with Johnnie To, which takes place at a screening of his film The Mission at the Cinémathèque Française on March 5th, 2008. There’s a quick intro for the director, who then introduces the film to the audience. We then cut to “85-minutes later” and To is then hit with a wave of questions. The audience asks the questions in French and To responds in Cantonese (I’m guessing anyways) and the feature is presented with English subtitles. It focuses on The Mission to begin with, To talking about the quick production (which took something like 18 days to shoot) and the extremely limited budget. He also talks about his career in general, including how he got into filmmaking, which was completely by chance and absolutely random. He talks a little bit about Mad Detective and also brings up a possible remake to Le cercle rouge. It’s an excellent session, and covers a lot of To’s career. I guess I just wished there was more about Mad Detective in it.
Next is a feature labeled Cast Interviews, a loose 16-minute interview of sorts with actors Lau Ching Wan and Lam Suet. The questions put forward to the two, sitting in what looks like a lobby with a group of people, are presented in English captions. The two cover a variety of topics through it, though they concentrate on the art of acting specifically and how they get into their roles and choose them (Lau has to be “sure” about his characters.) Lau also talks about his move from serious work to comedy and then back to serious, and how he became involved with Mad Detective and talks a little about his character. Not a great feature, sort of all over the place, but the two offer some fascinating insights into their craft.
We then get another interview with Johnnie To under the supplement Johnnie To Interview. Running 21-minutes, and recorded on March 4th, 2008 in Paris, France, To answers a series of questions posed by a group of reporters. He gets into more detail about his production company and his intent in its founding. He talks about his shooting schedule, which ranges from a few days with The Mission to about a year with PTU. There’s mention of his relationship with Tsui Hark, and possibly working with Alain Delon (which I assume would be the Le cercle rouge remake mentioned in the Q&A feature.) There’s also a bizarre, unrelated question about a scandal currently going on involving Edison Cheng. I actually had to look this up as I had no idea what they were talking about, but for those concerned it involves a set of photos involving Edison and a series of women that made their way onto the internet, possibly coming from his laptop. All fascinating I guess but what this has to do with To I’m not sure. Other than that little distraction it’s an excellent interview with the director talking about his work, though again it has very little to do with Mad Detective.
Closing off the disc features is a U.K. theatrical trailer.
A booklet is also included, containing an essay by David Bordwell, who gives a nice analysis of the film, and also expands on To’s career and production company.
I guess the film is too new to offer a more analytical set of supplements, which I sort of hoped for. Still, the supplements at least offer a wonderful look at To, a director I’m not overly familiar with, and make me more interested in tracking down some of his other films.
I do feel I have to briefly comment on the film, which was a bizarre yet wonderful police thriller, not at all what I was expecting. The supplements are decent and I enjoyed looking through them. But the real selling point is the excellent audio and video transfer found on here, which is stunning. This disc is a must to get.
(I also want to point out again that disc is region free, meaning it will play on all Blu-ray players. For those in North America who are thinking about picking this up, since it’s not available here, it’s safe to pick it up and it’s well worth it.)