Breaking News 2004 Review: One of the most urban crime thrillers I’ve ever seen

After a disastrous failure to stop a robber gang. The police attempt to redeem themselves through a series of publicity stunts and shootouts.

“Breaking News (Nhuc Han Uy Long)” is one of the most urban crime thrillers I’ve ever seen. Using the density and verticality of a modern city as an intense frame for the fast-paced action.

Hong Kong here seems to have visually become like the futuristic cities with satellite cameras of “Blade Runner” and “Code 46,” with almost all the action taking place with 360 degree views of narrow streets, crowded plazas, dark hallways and elevator shafts. There’s a door-to-door attack in a corridor that throws down the now classic scene from “Oldboy” as so much balletic nonsense compared to this gritty but very beautiful realism, with cinematography by Siu-keung Cheng.

Breaking News is one of the most urban crime thrillers (phim hanh dong xa hoi den) I’ve ever seen

Director Johnny To grabs our attention in the enthralling opening scene of a shoot-out on a Hong Kong street. With almost no dialog we can figure out that this is a stake-out going horribly wrong. While the scene dizzyingly must have been shot on a cherry-picker zooming up and down and around. As if we are on on external elevator or hanging from windows with a zoom telephoto lens. So the angles are always important as the camera swoops and narrows and broadens our view from shooter to victim to shooter to victim as we swivel to where the shots are heard. I felt like I was in the antenna of the aliens in “War of the Worlds”. So the visuals are always directly related to the sounds, as edited by David M. Richardson.

Though I could only infer some of the internal politics within the police bureaucracy with the significance of some using English names and others traditional Chinese names amidst the various competing levels of authority, some of whom spoke stilted English, it was easy enough to pick up on the techie criminalist statistician vs. the on the ground street cop (a terrific Nick Cheung, who is like a thinking cop’s Bruce Willis). Let alone the difficulties a woman cop (Kelly Chen or Tran Tue Lam) has on the force. So her need to prove herself and her modern approach is a driving theme in the film. And gives it considerable difference from a more conventional crime drama. She may be a neophyte at being in charge, but she is not an idiot.

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