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Confession of Pain

(from left to right) Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Xu Jinglei, Shu Qi, and Takeshi Kaneshiro.

  Chinese: 傷城
Year: 2006  
Director: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung, Alan Mak Siu-Fai
Writer: Felix Chong Man-Keung, Alan Mak Siu-Fai
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei, Shu Qi, Chapman To Man-Chat, Emme Wong Yi-Man, Yueh Hua, Wan Yeung-Ming, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Chan Bo-Yuen, Shaun Tam Chun-Yin, Toby Leung Ching-Kei, Monie Tung Man-Lei, Candy Hau Woon-Ling
The Skinny: The most disappointing movie of the year, especially given the Infernal Affairs-sized expectations. Fine performances, slick production values, and potent themes can't lift Felix Chong and Alan Mak's ultimately rudderless and disconnected screenplay. At least everyone is pretty.
by Kozo:

2006's most likely Hong Kong Cinema savior has arrived with Confession of Pain, a new crime drama from the fellows who brought you those damned Infernal Affairs movies. When referring to the IA films as "damned", we're not talking their quality or reputation, both of which are at insane sky-high levels. No, what makes the IA movies so frustrating is their nigh-untouchable position in HK Cinema history. Aside from arguably saving the flagging Hong Kong film industry, the IA films were all commercial and critical successes, and demonstrated just how powerful and rewarding Hong Kong populist filmmaking could be.

The films can now probably be considered legendary, such that asking filmmakers Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, and Felix Chong to ever match them would be next to impossible. The impossible stays impossible with Confession of Pain; the film certainly looks and feels like quality, and possesses enough attractive elements to warrant a "worth seeing" classification for Hong Kong Cinema aficionados anyway. However, there's no other way to say this: Confession of Pain disappoints.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro are the two big men in Felix Chong and Alan Mak's melancholy and surprisingly uninspired screenplay. Leung is Hei, a highly-regarded police detective whose girlfriend Susan (Mainland actress/director Xu Jinglei) is at the focal point of all his worries. Her father (Yueh Hua) and his personal servant (Wan Yeung-Ming) have recently been brutally murdered, and she's starting to believe someone may be stalking her. Hei thinks it's just nerves, and has taken to giving her sedatives to keep her calm. He also makes his own investigations into her claims, but his actions go suspiciously unreported.

Meanwhile, Susan hires private investigator Bong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to follow up on her father's murder. A former colleague and current friend of Hei's, Bong is perpetually drunk, a state he's been in since former girlfriend Rachel (Emme Wong) committed suicide some years ago. Bong tackles the case along with crappy cop Tsui (Chapman To). Despite some red herrings and more than a few drinks, Bong slowly moves closer to catching the killer of Susan's father.

Or not. The identity of the killer may be shocking to the characters in the film, but to the audience it's not, because they give it away early on. With the mystery solved, the only question that remains is "why". Unfortunately, we get that answer in the most uninteresting way possible: verbal exposition, usually foisted upon one character to another in the form of an accusation, whereupon the other character basically admits their wrongdoing and continues on with a few extra tidbits on why doing bad stuff is justifiable.

Confession of Pain is full of dark and morally murky details, many of which are actually quite affecting, especially given the performances. Hei frequently exhibits subtle mannerisms and portentous gazes, easy stuff for an actor as skilled and charismatic as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Leung has the unenviable task of playing a potentially unlikeable cad, but he succeeds in bringing out his character's complexities and conflicting emotions.

Takeshi Kaneshiro matches Leung, giving Bong tremendous sympathy, despite occasionally hamming up Bong's drunken stupor. Kaneshiro has always been an actor who works best when his character's emotions are naked and tinged with a sense of desperation - which Bong certainly is. It's his story which gives the film its progression. As Bong moves closer to the dark heart of the murders, he struggles to cope with his own darkness and desperation. Felix Chong and Alan Mak have put admirable effort into creating these characters. For screenwriting intent, Confession of Pain musters a strong B-plus.

However, for execution, Confession of Pain gets a solid C, or perhaps even worse. The details of Felix Chong and Alan Mak's screenplay are solid and fleshed-out, but they're connected poorly to the film's overall story. One large problem is simply the decision to give away the killer's identity early. It's likely that they couldn't have played it any other way, as there are precious few suspects in the film, but such early disclosure of the "who" begs a darker, more devastating "why". That never comes to pass, as the "why" is well-developed, but ultimately rather pedestrian. Secrets are revealed, but it's all in the name of explanation, and not anything deeper than that.

The reliance on after-the-fact exposition is another big debit, as it gives the audience little to do besides simply listen to the actors recite the biggest revelations. Even worse is the fact that the big discoveries aren't rendered in a cinematic form. It's usually just Bong sitting in a library with multiple dissolves and stacks of books indicating that he's chugging along on his investigation. We would hope for a little more excitement from Messrs. Lau, Mak, and Chong, but in a rather uncharacteristic result, they don't deliver.

The Chinese title of Confession of Pain translates as "Wounded City", an accurate description for this motley group of pained protagonists. We receive an early, powerful glimpse of this in the film's opening scene, where Hei brutalizes a rape perpetrator right before the consenting eyes of his entire police team. In Confession of Pain, we get that justice is not easy to attain, and is usually clouded by emotions or circumstances that are difficult to navigate. The characters essay this theme nicely through their personal trials and pained expressions.

However, when they start speaking about their pains, any cinematic experience grinds to a screeching halt. The film's themes are frequently expressed in exposition, and only seem to add extra details to the already detail-heavy plot. Despite each character's rich backstory, neither Bong nor Hei possess a particularly illuminating or revelatory character arc. Worse, the two characters don't connect very well to one another. They're good friends and colleagues, but the drama that plays out doesn't seem to bring them that much closer together or farther apart. Ultimately, it seems the Bong-Hei relationship is important only because it's Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai acting it out. Their relationship could have been more interesting, and possibly even dangerous, but ultimately it represents a wasted opportunity on the filmmakers' part.

Confession of Pain is probably still worth seeing, especially because of its insanely quality-heavy pedigree. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak do give the film some appropriate flashes of style, and the first half of the film is filled with promise. Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro bring acres of screen charisma to their roles, and they don't neglect to act, either. Xu Jinglei is marvelous, and delivers the film's most chilling scene, while Shu Qi and Chapman To are bright spots despite their questionably necessary roles. Technically, the film is also quite accomplished, with fine cinematography and camerawork, an effective score from Chan Kwong-Wing, and a polished feel that rivals any of those Infernal Affairs films.

In nearly every way, Confession of Pain seems like it should be an out-and-out winner, as if all the stars in the Hong Kong Cinema firmament were aligned to make it happen. However, whatever promise the film offers is negated by the disconnected and finally pedestrian execution. Andrew Lau, Alan Mak and Felix Chong apparently tried very hard to make Confession of Pain a worthwhile commercial film, which is a big step up from someone like Wong Jing, who frequently doesn't even try at all. But simply trying isn't enough, and the heights (i.e., Infernal Affairs, and even Initial D) that Confession of Pain falls from are simply too high to excuse the resulting disappointment. Frankly, for the ardent Hong Kong Cinema fan, Confession of Pain's failure is more than just unfortunate. It could be enough to make a grown man cry. (Kozo 2006)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Mega Star / Media Asia
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen