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Shark Busters
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Ken Lo, Brian Ireland and Lam Suet
Chinese: 反收數特遣隊
Year: 2002
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
Producer: Danny Lee Sau-Yin
Cast: Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Brian Ireland, Hui Siu-Hung, Lam Suet, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Bonnie Lai Suk-Yin, Fung Hak-On, Law Koon-Lan, John Ching Tung, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting, Turbo, Lee Siu-Kei, Jamie Luk Kin-Ming
The Skinny: Amusing but esoteric comedy which mixes a healthy dose of social commentary into its rather lightweight proceedings. Probably not for everyone, though fans of Herman Yau will likely enjoy this latest work.
by Kozo:

The cops take the loan sharks to town in this amusing satirical comedy from the prolific and generally-appreciated Herman Yau. Danny Lee stars (again) as Lee Sir, the head cop in a department beset by individual characters and issues. Lee is saddled with negative assets thanks to the declining economy, and his debts make front page news for the headlines-starved paparazzi. Such publicity is a headache to the top cops (including Alfred Cheung in a cameo), not to mention fodder for his subordinates.

Still, Lee Sir only owes to banks and credit card companies, which is nothing compared to some of his co-workers. Patrolman Benz (Hui Siu-Hung) goes to a personal finance company to pay off his bank loans, but the loaners turn out to be a triad-run business which only looks legitimate. Cueball badguy Chan Ho-Lung (Lam Suet) runs the organization, which uses various illegal means to collect their staggeringly high interest. He's not the only cop in debt to these particular bastards, and even Lee gets drawn in after Benz uses him as his guarantor. After too many incidents involving triad intimidation and smug behavior, the various debt-ridden cops decide that enough is enough. Using whatever means necessary, they resolve to take down the loan sharks and abolish their debts once and for all.

The tone here is amiable, and Herman Yau comes through with mostly amusing character and situation comedy. Yau is a rarity among Hong Kong directors in that he actually uses his characters to do something other than occupy space. The interplay and attitudes of these distinctly Hong Kong people make for fun, if not too low-key comedic moments. Furthermore, Yau apparently takes great pride in skewering the established societal norm. The triads in Shark Busters thank the government for mucking with the economy, and see no danger in lending to cops. One particularly rich character is a gweilo lawyer (Brian Ireland), who joins the cops as an auxiliary officer because he wants to carry a gun. At the same time, he represents the triad loan sharks, meaning he frequently finds himself across the table from his cop co-workers. Such double-duty would probably lead to physical and verbal assault in the real world, but in Yau's satiric space it's just business as usual and prime funny stuff for the audience.

Still, that audience is not likely to be your usual Internet-savvy youngster. The cast and skewered topics of Shark Busters are likely above the heads of most popstar chasers and casual moviegoers, and the action and comedy don't make for an epic crowd-pleaser. Yau seems to sympathize with the mid-thirties to early-fifties Hong Kong residents who found themselves caught up in the promise of 1997—only to be disappointed when the bottom dropped out of the economy. As such, the film may speak to those people, and indeed Shark Busters is a favorite of the Hong Kong Film Critics Society, HK's famed union of film critics which likely has no members below the age of thirty.

But if you can't entirely identify with Yau's subject, then Shark Busters may be tough going. The narrative is slow going and not given to action or thrills; much of what happens is sheer exposition delivered through the jaws of Danny Lee or Lam Suet. Fans of Ekin Cheng should probably stay away from this film, but it's nonetheless a rare and effective Hong Kong film that actually shows some signs of intelligence beneath the throwaway pratfalls and mouthy histrionics. Herman Yau should be lauded for attempting to tackle actual subjects, and he does a fine job of making pleasant, low-key entertainment out of it. Shark Busters isn't an overly special cinematic experience, but as an alternative to Wong Jing, it's stellar work. (Kozo 2003)


9th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
Recommended Film
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
City Connection
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of City Connection Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen