Unique, unbalanced police procedural that's enjoyable but ultimately forgettable.
This is, at least, not just a clever name. This joint directorial outing from Exiled and Election director Johnny To and Fulltime Killer helmer Ka-Fai Wai certainly contains one mad detective. Within the first five minutes of the film, we see Inspector Chan Kwai Bun (Ching Wan Lau) solve a case after the inspiration of packing himself inside a suitcase and being kicked down a flight of stairs, but he's quickly thrown off the force after giving his boss a gruesome retirement present by lopping his own ear off. Yes, Mad Detective seems fairy appropriate as a title. Certainly more so than it's native title Sun Taam, whatever that means. I mean, it's not even in English. Sort it out, Johnny Foreigner!
A few years down the line, there's a need to call on Bun again, who despite being a certifiable fruitcake nevertheless had a tremendous success rate. This was because, as he claims at least, he can see the inner personalities of people as characters wandering around next to them. And he lives in his apartment with an idealised apparition of his estranged wife. Did we mention he's a mad detective? Because he really is mad, y'know.
Anyway, a copper has gone missing after chasing a suspect into the woods, however his gun has been matched to one used in a series of robberies carried out by a masked man. With an absence of leads, Inspector Ho Ka On (Andy On) asks Bun to have a look at the case. Bun's immediately drawn to the missing cop's former partner Ko Chi Wai (Ka Tung Lam), who seems to have no less than seven personalities orbiting him, according to Bun's eyes at least.
What follows plays as something of a cross between your average police procedural and Rentaghost, or a particularly unhinged episode of Monk. It shares a similar attitude to mental illness as Park Chan Wook's I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay, which is to say that it points at it and laughs. Which I wholeheartedly approve of. There's little attempt to present Bun's abilities, if that's the term, as anything other than a interesting McGuffin on which to hang the story, so don't go expecting any deep insight into the tragic suffering of people with... whatever the hell it is he's got. It requires pills, at any rate, so it must be serious.
I'm actually a terrible person to ask if this is any good or not. There's some strange combination of malfunctioning neurons in my brain that routes quirky Asian films directly past any critical faculties I may have and sends it directly to my gurgling pleasure centres. Especially when the lead character gets his head staved in against a porcelain basin.
Attempting to force my poor little brain to think about it, I suppose it's far from being essential viewing. Even as someone seemingly genetically predisposed to liking this sort of stuff I found my attention wandering at points, so that's probably not a good sign for all you norms out there. On the other hand, it's a damn sight more interesting than your average episode of The Bill, and features a guy in a suitcase getting kicked downstairs and then cutting his ear off, so that's something. In conclusion, yes.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Andy On (Inspector Ho Ka On)
Ka Tung Lam (Ko Chi Wai)
Kelly Lin (May Cheung)