Undercover Blues

Reviewed by YTSL

In the first few minutes of a 2000 film that he co-produced (with Peter Chan Chi Keung (who oughtn’t be confused with U.F.O. doyen, Peter Chan Ho San), Ray Lui intones that “the world has changed faster than me”.  Twice during the crime drama whose script he co-wrote (along with Edward Pang), Simon Loui is heard to similarly say that “I haven’t changed but the world has changed”.  Far less opaque in meaning and implication for me though were those statistics -- none of which I feel any particular reason to think of as entirely unfounded -- brandished before this movie drew to a close that told of it being so that:  At any one time 250 of Hong Kong’s 34,000 police officers are involved in undercover work; and upon their completion of these assigned undercover stints, 50% of the individuals involved return to more conventional policing duties, 30% of them decide to leave the police force while the remaining 20% end up really joining the Triads, are killed or...vanish.

Ray Lui and Daniel Wu
UNDERCOVER BLUES centers on the efforts of four undercover policemen sent on a 48 hour mission to retrieve another undercover operative feared to be in particular danger upon his going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to take part in effecting a major drug deal for his Hong Kong-based “boss”.  When word is received that the deal involved HK$50 million worth of “ice”, some people start to suspect that the possibly “lost” young undercover, Joe Wong (who is played by Daniel Wu), had given in to temptation and genuinely crossed over to the criminal side.  However, this thought is not one that Frankie Chan, the high-ranking cop put in charge of this special operation (and portrayed by Ray Lui), is willing to entertain at the outset.
Simon Loui and Mark Cheng
One reason given for this is that orphan Joe seems to be Frankie’s main protege.  Another is that up until two months ago (i.e., before Joe went undercover), the two of them had been firm friends who hung out quite a bit together.  Fred (who is menacingly essayed by Simon Loui), is someone else in the rescue party who could be considered to be a friend of Joe.  Unlike Frankie though, he is less certain of Joe’s ability to stay on the straight and narrow.  After all, like Fred pointed out to the senior officer, what’s involved in this particular drug deal were amounts of admittedly illegal goods and cash whose monetary amount was way more than any policeman could possibly think to legally earn in his entire working life, if not lifetime.  If he were in Joe’s position, Fred told Frankie, he would take the merchandise and money and run.
Wong Hei and Chatman To
Neither of the two others on the 48 hour mission seems to have specific opinions about whether or not Joe is a good cop turned bad.  Or, at least, we are spared their musings re their brother officer (who only briefly crossed paths with one of them and is a complete stranger to the other).  As such, Simon (a not 100% “clean” erstwhile undercover policeman who comes in the form of a bleached blonde Mark Cheng) and Charles (a solid guy played by Wong Hei who also has the case of the UNDERCOVER BLUES, courtesy of his police work having caused him marital problems) really do seem to be just there to do a job at the request of Frankie, who had handpicked this squad of four.
Guys and Jessie Meng
Seeing as the Billy Chung directed effort’s focus is as much about the four undercover policemen sent on assignment to Malaysia as well as the operation they undertake, I can see why comparisons have been made between UNDERCOVER BLUES and Johnnie To’s “The Mission”.  However, as far as this (re)viewer is concerned, that which also features appearances by Jessy Meng (as the estranged girlfriend of Frankie who the group encounters by chance in a nightclub that Joe’s trail had led them to), Chapman To (as the Hong Kongers’ Malaysian contact) and Blackie Ko (as the man named Lo Hung, AKA Spanner, whose “business” Joe had been assigned to learn more about) is really not in the same league at all with the Milkyway Image production.  Perhaps I would have felt differently if the budget offering’s cinematographer had not had such an irritating propensity to saturate the picture(s) with moody blues and related greens.  As it stands though, I consider this tightly-plotted movie with an interesting premise to be -- in more ways than one -- not colorful enough for my liking.

My rating for the film:  5.5