Reviewed by YTSL

Most overseas Hong Kong film fans only know about the HKSAR’s Chinese language newspapers by way of the entertainment reports that Sanney Leung and Jerry Chan translate into English and post on their websites for our benefit.  Reading their (in)famous references to “two points”, “flower vase roles” and “jade babes”, the sense one can get is of the territory’s reporters generally belonging much more to the ranks of the “stalkerazzi” and “gutter press” than that of respectable broadsheets.  This negative gossip-mongering image of those who work in the news(paper) industry is not helped by there being few – let alone particularly positive – depictions of journalists in Hong Kong movies (unlike with, say, police officers, Triad members, mothers and even bakers as well as chefs).

Emil Chow and Maggie Cheung Ho Yee
Despite its lead trio consisting of a very clean cut looking individual (in the form of Daniel Wu), an established Cantopop star (though it will be granted that Emil Chow doesn’t have the “pretty boy” looks of many of his contemporaries, let alone the representatives of the newer generation that has recently come along to challenge the established Sky Kings) and a TV actress with a considerable fan base (in the person of Maggie Cheung Ho Yee), HEADLINES is far from the cinematic equivalent of an expensively put together glossy magazine.  Instead, it is one China Star Entertainment Group and One Hundred Years of Film Company co-production which surely was more modestly budgeted and no frills styled than those which come under such as the Milkyway Image aegis.  Indeed, that whose other producers are the lesser known Sundy and Nam Yin Production Companies seems to have a consciously “ordinary folks” focus as well as straightforward presentation mode which successfully conveys the sense that the persons who are shown going about their usually unglamorous business and lives in the movie aren’t too different from their real life counterparts.
Daniel Wu and Grace Yip
With assertions like “We are a news agency.  We don’t educate”, HEADLINES doesn’t initially look like it will be a film that’s going to show the better side of those whose job is to provide people day in and out with readable information about their world.  Indeed, as we follow such as a rookie intern -- who has just returned from the U.S., and is prone to spout out English phrases a la Michael Fitzgerald Wong – named Peter Wong going about his assigned business, we see him rather painfully learning that there’s more dirt, sweat and blood involved in the task of “follow(ing) the truth to find the lies” than his college professors divulged.  As a worldly scribe cum photographer who goes by the nickname of Sorrow points out pretty early on, among the arguably lesser concerns that need to also be taken into account by those who hope to survive in this highly competitive business are those of deadlines, sales, and headlines (attractive ones of which can make a mediocre article look good, unattractive ones of which can make a great article look bad).  Especially as Ross Clarkson’s camera trails and chronicles a dogged journo like Joey’s attempt to develop an interesting story out of a small detail which had not caught the eye of less observant others, we also get shown how those who are expected to produce at least three articles a week for the Hong Kong Daily News – and presumably other newspapers like it – have to be willing to lie as well as venture into the underbelly of society to get what they want and need.

Almost invariably though, the further along we go into that whose (longer) Chinese title translates into English as “People of the HEADLINES”, the more it becomes apparent that things are never as black and white as they might first seem.  As Daniel Wu’s Peter Wong character discovers, even the easiest of assignments – in this case, the supposedly routine investigation of a relatively minor car accident – can bring on unanticipated complications (and even a physical assault on his person).  Ditto re his effort to do good as well as do a good reporting job.  In the case of Emil Chow’s Sorrow character, ethical dilemmas come about when, in the course of covering a jewelry show, he learns more about one of its models (the Puerto Rican identified as Nancy Sing), one of the organizers (a Mr. Ricky Chan) and the senior police officer in charge of its security (Officer Mak is played by Wayne Lai) than he probably retrospectively would have liked to have done.

Daniel, Maggie, Emil and Wayne Lai
Meanwhile, the predicament that comes along for Maggie Cheung Ho Yee’s Joey character is less the product of her electing to masquerade as a social worker to the expelled schoolboy who she tracked down by going to his grandmother’s dwellings and far more a result of her taking to him as a person (rather than just as the source of an interesting story about the Triad presence in Hong Kong’s schools and among the local youth).  Lest Joey’s emotional attachment to Ho Wai Keung be stereotypically perceived by some as that which was inevitable, given her female nature, here’s pointing out that:  Peter also obviously cares more for the focus of his first newspaper article(s) – a plucky orphan lass named Yuen Chi Wai (played by Grace Yip) and her two younger brothers – than he is professionally obliged to; and Sorrow is unlike another reporter portrayed by Simon Loui in worrying about how his reporting will impact the innocent loved ones of those whose guilt probably do deserve to be revealed for all the world to see.
Those who conclude, upon reading this (far into the) review, that HEADLINES is not a film that puts an accent on the sensationalistic are correct in their surmization.  One would be wrong, however, to consequently believe that it is a boring cinematic piece.  Although not greatly memorable as a whole, the generally workmanlike effort still most definitely had some startling moments that caused this (re)viewer to alternately gasp or almost forget to breathe upon encountering them while taking in this Leo Heung helmed offering.

My rating for the film:  6.