Friday, 15 June 2007

Eye in the Sky 跟踪 (2007)

Don't expect a walk in the park

As the movie opens, you are aware that a heist is about to take place. What is more interesting, though, is that the robbers are watched intensely by different groups of people on the street - all disguised as ordinary passers-by and civilians - and that you don't know who whether these are cops or criminals, or whether there is more than one (or two) opposing groups present on the scene. But everyone tails everyone else, and everyone is watching the robbers as they approach the location of their heist. And yet the rival factions are both unaware that they're being monitored by their counterparts... It's the most delicious opening scene for a crime thriller I've ever seen, and far outshines all other Hong Kong scriptwriting.

So yes, this movie does have an interesting premise, which you may have guessed reading the first paragraph - if both sides of the law rely heavily on the same method and philosophy of manual surveillance for their stakeouts, stings, and heists, whose methods will ace the operation, whose subterfuge will reign supreme? For this movie to work perfectly, it has to be a highly technical story, much like a cop procedural, but multiplied by two since the criminal gang in question appears to equal the cops in the area of surveillance. For the most part of the first act, Eye in the Sky delivers the promise by delving into both the police and the criminal procedure and their games of subterfuge, hinting at a great matchup.

However, astute moviegoers will begin to question early the utility of the film's secondary plot, the initiation story of newbie Surveillance Unit member Pig Girl (everyone goes by codenames in the unit. Simon Yam, her superior, is known as Dog Head). With its premise and setup, the most natural and best thing to do is to script the plot into an Enemy at the Gates style battle of wits between the criminal gang and the cops, as well as giving almost equal time to both operations. Instead, the introduction and development of the Initiation Story is done at the expense of the premise, with the script losing the fine balance that its own opening scene demands from the rest of the movie. In terms of screen time and audience allegiance, the cops dominate the movie.

This isn't as big a mistake as having the cops outclass the criminals without much effort - apparently only the mastermind of the criminal operation is aware of the surveillance possibilities and dangers from the ubiquity of CCTV cameras in public places, and much of the thrill that could arise from a battle of wits is lost early on when you realise that his gang members, for some unexplained reasons, aren't as sophisticated and clever as him. To rub salt into my intellectual wound, even the criminal mastermind - who, if you remember, outwits, outcloaks, and outplans the cops in the opening scene - manages to get trailed and spied on easily once the cops begin their operations in earnest. There's nothing so deadly to the sense of thrill in this movie as showing that its villains are run-of-the-mill criminals who aren't even a challenge to their police counterparts, despite employing the same methods as the cops themselves.

The overall success or failure of this movie will then depend on how audiences take towards its secondary initiation of a newbie story, which I felt played second fiddle and was less finely written and conceived than the main story. Cliched and predictable might be the word, alas! The strengths of Eye in the Sky lie in the execution of its opening scene, as well as in the performances of Simon Yam and Tony Leung Kar Fai. For an extremely plot-driven script where all other characters were at best collections of exaggerated personality traits, Yam and Leung managed to stand heads and shoulders above the cast by inventing out of thin air, the depth of their characters.

Eye in the Sky has the most interesting and creative premise in the HK cop vs robbers genre, but weaknesses in its script and the execution of its premise mean this film will still not replace Infernal Affairs as the best HK film of the decade.

First published at incinemas on 21 June 2007

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