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Breaking News

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Posted 8th July 2009 at 03:03 PM by Philleh

Why do the media (and the public) love tragedy? Nothing gets the papers selling, or the viewing figures soaring, like a good ol’ siege! How about a healthy dose of genocide? Or maybe a mother who decided to murder her own children? Or the disgruntled employee who decided that enough was enough and takes his friend, AK-47, to the office one day? Each story is guaranteed to sell, sell, sell. Whatever happened to the good old days of covering cat shows and water skiing squirrels?

Johnnie To is obviously baffled by this also, and he’s smart enough to know why the media is so effective in the overall running of modern day society. Never was there a more powerful weapon than that of a paper and pen: true words, true words indeed. But in these modern days of I-phones, blogs, Wi-fi and laptop computers, that paper and pen mentality is ever more evident today than it ever was. Remember the July bombings in London? Sure ya’ do, those mobile phone pictures made a sweet “wish you were here” style postcode didn’t they? Yes folks, in today’s age we can ALL be journalists. Then why do we continue to cover something that usually involves pain and death? Those jet skiing squirrels need recognition too, damn it!

Johnnie To knows that the media is a weapon and he’s here to explore how it can be exploited by pretty much anyone with something to say… or to hide.

The story driving Breaking News is fantastically simple. A shoot out on a suburban street, between some crooks and the police force, spills onto a nearby accident scene that is flooded with camera crews of all the major news broadcasters. Turning their attention to the gun fight, the crooks come out on top when a police officer is caught throwing his arms up when a thug aims his gun at him. The public are disheartened by the image of the terrified officer and the big dogs (Simon Yau and Kelly Chan) upstairs feel it’s time to show the public what the police are “really” like.

When the gun-toting goons take refuge in a labyrinth-like housing block, the police see this as the perfect opportunity to show the public how effective the police are at handling criminals. This means mounting cameras on their agents and sending in the big boys, like the PTU and SDU teams, to flush these rats out. Unknown to them however, is that the criminals have hostages and access to the web themselves. With each encounter becoming more and more violent, each tape the police release to the media is swiftly counter-attacked by images taken from the criminals showing a completely different story to what the police are trying to portray.

I consider myself a Johnnie To fan, although I don’t believe he’s the new messiah of Hong Kong action films, that’s Wilson Yip, but when he’s at the top of his game (which he often is folks) he is capable of making some of the greatest movies this side of late 80’s, early 90’s John Woo and Tsui Hark. I also have to admit that this has been my favourite film of his to date; I preferred it over both Exiled and Election. I liked the idea of the media being used as the middle man to portray both sides of the story (which is rarely does in real life), it was innovative and fresh, and that’s what the action genre needs most, like all genres really!

Another thing that truly blew me away was the choreography of the film, not since John Woo’s Hard Boiled has there been such a flawless execution of a one-take gun battle! The opening 7 minute shoot out in the streets is a piece of action movie gold that stands out in these days of fancy flash cuts and acid laced editing. It felt real, like we were witnessing a true gun battle unfold in front of us, as the camera roams up and down buildings as people jump down from windows onto the street, the camera never missing a thing, flowing up and down the street. Of course you can’t have your opening act top the whole film and To goes for it again in the finale, only this time the action takes place in a mini bus as our persistent hero-cop chases the last villain on a motorbike. Once again it’s one long take as the thug takes pop shots at the cop (and vice versa), all without any cuts, again feeling like your really there in the heat of the moment – brilliant!

The biggest flaw Breaking News has is, ironically, the action clichés. The film prides itself on its realistic approach and look, so when the hero of the piece starts jumping into elevator shafts and falling off speeding motorbikes only to get right up and keep running; it pulls you out of the moment and makes you realise that regular police DO NOT blast at the criminals while sliding down elevator shafts and DO get hurt when a bomb goes off near them. But it’s only a slight grudge as the overall movie is stylish, well paced and even slightly comical (To finds time for a well placed fart joke!).

Tartan has done, unfortunately, a lazy job releasing this title. The cover is, frankly, hideous! Whoever thought the cover (an explosive background and two characters waving guns) was a good idea needs to loose their job, or at least be given the mop and bucket: it’s THAT sickening. They have also failed to provide us with any, almost customary, linear notes! As for the extras, we are given a trailer and a ‘behind the scenes’ featurette that is pretty much a waste of time. Tsk tsk.

Hong Kong actions fans can do no wrong in picking up this release; it’s not hard to see why the Hong Kong film association gave this movie ample rewards in 2004. It’s a refreshing title, in a long line of Infernal Affair clones, which deserves more respect than it has received here. Shame on you Tartan! Here’s looking forward to the Russian remake!
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  1. Old Comment
    I thought it was above average, but the single shot opening is outstanding, the extended tracking shot. I like directors who are creative with where the camera sits.
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    Posted 12th April 2010 at 07:33 PM by cinematheque cinematheque is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Philleh's Avatar
    Couldn't agree more, the Russian re-make 'Newsmakers' is out now; could be worth a watch!
    Comment with Quote permalink
    Posted 12th May 2010 at 01:50 PM by Philleh Philleh is offline
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