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Rule No. 1
Shawn Yue in Rule No. 1     Ekin Cheng in Rule No. 1

(left) Shawn Yue packs heat, and (right) Ekin Cheng gets hard-boiled in Rule No. 1.
Chinese: 第一誡  
Year: 2008  
Director: Kelvin Tong  
  Cast: Shawn Yue, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Stephanie Che Yuen-Yuen, Fiona Xie, Renee Lee
  The Skinny: An overweight Ekin Cheng and an intense Shawn Yue team up to bust some ghosts. A good concept, able direction, and a fun performance from Ekin Cheng make Rule No. 1 an entertaining ride. Overall, however, the film can't support its own far-out premise, and its nihilism feels unearned. Still worth a look, despite the flaws.
by Kozo:

In Shamo, Shawn Yue wore Ekin Cheng on his jacket. Now, Yue gets to hang out with the real thing. Chan Wing-Yan teams with Chan Ho-Nam for Rule No. 1, an entertaining but flawed supernatural cop thriller from Singapore director Kelvin Tong (The Maid). Yue is Lee Kwok-Keung, a Hong Kong beat cop who discovers the dead body of a teenage girl in the trunk of a car before the car's owner gets the drop on Lee and fires a few slugs into him. By all accounts, Lee should be dead, but before this assailant can land the coup de grace, the girl's body rises from the dead, giving Lee the opportunity he needs to defend himself. Flash-forward to some months later, and Lee is haunted by his memory of the girl's ghost. However, Lee's superior officer won't accept that he saw the undead, so as a reprimand, he's reassigned to a different division. The moral to this story: it's always better to lie to your boss.

Lee's new workplace is the Miscellaneous Affairs Department, which is located in a remote, dilapidated building that houses only two employees, one of them a creepy kid in a wheelchair who's always playing Jenga. Lee's first assignment is to investigate some shrieking sounds at a swimming pool, and as Lee wanders around the darkened building, a long-haired ghost can be seen lurking in the background. But when Lee searches the bowels of the building, he finds not the ghost's lair but a forty something guy in an overcoat who looks just like that guy in Feel 100%. This is Lee's new boss, a rumpled inspector named Wong (Ekin Cheng), who appears out of nowhere to tell Lee that he should rein in his Sixth Sense-inspired imagination. He also proffers the Miscellaneous Affairs Department's rule number one: "There are no ghosts." Their team handles suspected supernatural reports, and are required to reassure freaked-out citizens that their suspicions are only fiction.

But they aren't only fiction. As Lee soon learns, the supernatural plays a very large part at the Miscellaneous Affairs Department. Rule No. 1 is basically X-Files meets Men in Black by way of Playboy Cops and the Pang Brothers; the film presents the idea of a small supernatural-investigating task force whose job is specific and very top secret. The Miscellaneous Affairs Department is supposed to protect the populace from knowledge of the supernatural world because, as Inspector Wong puts it, knowledge of ghosts and their powers will send the world "into chaos." These ghosts are exceptionally powerful, and can move from person to person "like a virus", leaving each host an empty shell after their possession. According to Wong, some nasty ghosts have been known to go on rampages, leaving a trail of lifeless people in their wake. It's Wong and Lee's job to stop these ghosts - using standard-issue firearms, regular bullets, and normal investigation techniques - and they're not supposed to let anyone but their superior officers know. Not an easy task, one would imagine. Things only get more difficult when a particularly nasty ghost shows up - and this one seems to have a strange, and particular interest in both Lee and Wong.

Rule No. 1 possesses a very intriguing concept, and director Kelvin Tong gets good mileage from the premise. Tong makes use of tried-and-true Asian horror style, using shock staging, loud noises, and enough creepy atmosphere to earn the film immediate inclusion in any international film festival's "Asia Extreme" lineup. Tong does the formula one better by actually creating characters and suspense, and uses his horror technique smartly. For the first half of the film, he delivers an exceptionally entertaining ride. The film slowly develops its premise, the characters are given welcome focus, and both lead actors are solid. Ekin Cheng is particularly effective as the world-weary Inspector Wong, and gives his character greater weight and life than the script really allows. Cheng packed on a few extra pounds for the role, and he's clearing playing his age (forty-one, at last guess) rather than the eternally young characters he's known for. Cheng brings a lively charm and charisma to the character, and outshines his more prolific co-star, though Yue may also have the more thankless role. The character of Lee is mostly skeptical and bothered, but Yue carries the film with a convincing intensity. For a commercial film, these are solid and even noteworthy performances, with each actor proving worthy of their star status.

Unfortunately for the actors, the film can't really keep up. Rule No. 1 has a good premise, and Tong keeps things interesting enough, and maintains suspension of disbelief far longer than the film deserves. The horror film technique, sharp cinematography, and some genuinely tense moments make the film an effective ride. However, once the ride ends, the film's plot holes become very apparent, and further examination of the details renders all that came before exceptionally unconvincing. Rule No. 1 supposes that these cops are staving off chaos by performing their thankless duty, but if ghosts really are as powerful and free as the film shows us, then the Miscellaneous Affairs Department is grossly undermanned. Dealing with ghosts like these requires a government-sponsored task force with scores of members, not to mention better technology and means with which to perform their duty. Maybe this particular ghostly antagonist is the first of a nasty new breed, but the details and history aren't there to support that. After learning about the world of Rule No. 1 and the abilities of these ghosts, one wonders why the world isn't already overrun by the undead. Chaos and a wasteland of corpses should be plentiful, if ghosts can do what Rule No. 1 supposes that they can.

What Rule No. 1 lacks is simply more thought and detail to back up its ideas and deadly-serious delivery. There are some smart, fun quirks in the film, and the actors bring life to their roles, but the film would have been far more successful had the filmmakers simply fleshed out the story and screenplay. What prompted the police force to create the Miscellaneous Affairs Department? Why can't they tell other policemen? How is it that the Miscellaneous Affairs Department can expend so much ammunition without being buried in paperwork? What is the public reaction to these mysterious deaths and these comatose human beings the ghosts leave behind? What's the story behind Inspector Wong's nineteen-year run with the department? And are these questions too nitpicky? Perhaps they are, but the reason they're being asked is simple: the film doesn't convince of its reality enough that these questions are ignored. If Rule No. 1 could ably convince of its premise, then no one would question anything.

Furthermore, if the filmmakers had better fleshed out their themes and ideas, then maybe their ending wouldn't feel so unearned and unsatisfying. At a certain point, the film tries to go ultra-dark on its audience, but the drop into nihilism is not earned as much as it's announced, like "Check out this depressing development! Wow, this movie has integrity!" Well, maybe they believe it does, but to have integrity, principles must first exist, and Rule No. 1 doesn't establish those principles properly. The film asks the audience to feel loss and sorrow, but not enough is truly done onscreen to have those emotions register beyond the perfunctory. A certain sadness is evoked, but the sadness is more frustrating than appropriate. Despite possessing intriguing characters and situations, the film does not develop them enough, such that the twists and turns they face never seem like the absolutely had to happen. The biggest frustration here is that Rule No. 1 could have been really good had the filmmakers put more thought and effort into the story. As it is, the film is a watchable, entertaining ride, and a missed opportunity at something greater. (Kozo 2008)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image credits: Fortune Star Entertainment Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen