Cops and Robbers
Hong Kong 1979
Directed by Alex Cheung.

Pretty much what the title says. The cops are really, really good guys, fighting evil and generally finding it tough to get a date with the same sense of social justice. Sarge (Wang Chung) is the best of the bunch and also finds time to raise his son alone after his divorce. Meanwhile, the bad guys are led by a cross-eyed maniac butcher who doesn't just kill cops, he stabs them again and again and again in scenes of shockingly brutal violence.

COPS AND ROBBERS was a highly successful debut film from director Alex Cheung, part of the "New Wave" of directors coming from directing social dramas on some of the better television series of the time. He brings a gritty, energetic style to the production, all shot on location in some grimy and rundown areas of Hong Kong with the camera constantly in motion. Combined with very relaxed and real performances from the cops, COPS AND ROBBERS has a very immediate and true to life feel about it.

At least it does, until the story goes down the usual route -- you know, it's the one where the bad guys find out who the detectives are who are after them (from TV reports, as usual), and then start stalking the detectives masterfully despite being wanted by the police and having sketches posted everywhere. And of course, the bad guys have to go after family members, too, and that means girlfriends and little boys in peril. To be honest, I've always hated this overused plot device (I can almost hear the voiceover now -- "This time, it's personal!"), but thanks to the quality acting and directing, it becomes fairly tolerable here, and outside the cookie-cutter framework, there are some gripping and powerful scenes that linger in the memory.

COPS AND ROBBERS was produced by the big HK rocker of small stature, Teddy Robin, whose work (and music) is generally pretty enjoyable. Here, however, he contributes an opening themesong about kids playing Cops and Robbers, played over kids running around in soft focus playing Cops and Robbers. It's an interminable introduction to the film and doesn't fit stylistically with the rest of the production. Then, about halfway in, the goodguys hit the nightclubs and find Robin live in concert, doing another song about fighting evil to the bitter end. The cops sing along for the chorus. This scene is somehow less gratuitous and actually comes off pretty well despite its corniness.

Wang Chung delivers an effortlessly convincing and winning performance here, among the best of his career. Because of him, and because of the strong ensemble cast, the movie managed to get an emotional grip on me despite its numerous flaws. And for viewers interested in the history of Hong Kong Cinema, you might see in COPS AND ROBBERS the seed that grew a few years later into the movies of Ringo Lam and John Woo (CITY ON FIRE, etc.) that brought Hong Kong Cinema the international recognition it still (tenuously) holds today.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 16, 2005.

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