Daily | Cannes 2013 | Johnnie To’s BLIND DETECTIVE

Blind Detective

‘Blind Detective’

“After the Peckinpah-ian hard-boiled detectives of Drug War and the mist and cold of Northern China,” begins Marie-Pierre Duhamel in the Notebook, “back to another fantasy detective, or rather ex-detective (Andy Lau) paired with a devoted and sentimental woman cop (Sammy Cheng). Is Johnnie To building a personal collection of freak ex-cops? The previous one was ‘mad’ (Mad Detective [San Tam], 2007), this one is blind, yet the two characters share the same capacity to mentally witness and re-enact the circumstances of the murder cases they inquire upon. And the same ‘theory’: if you want to understand how ‘it’ really happened, live it. Like scriptwriters who would examine one option after another of a scenario, and then play out the scenes to test them.”

Blind Detective, screening Out of Competition, is “fundamentally a comedy,” notes Mike D’Angelo at the AV Club, “and if you have any experience with Hong Kong comedy, you know that it’s often broad enough to make Adam Sandler look like Oscar Wilde.” Lau and Cheng’s “methodology is more Laurel and Hardy than Crockett and Tubbs; there’s so much head-bonking and stair-tumbling that Cheng spends much of the movie either wearing a helmet or with padding stuffed beneath her clothes. Like Shield of Straw, Blind Detective runs far longer than necessary (129 minutes), and a little of Lau’s mugging goes a long way; after initially being put off, though, I eventually adjusted to the film’s antic rhythm (a world away from stoic To flicks like PTU, Exiled, and Election), enjoying the two leads’ go-for-broke enthusiasm and the convoluted plot’s nutty digressions.”

“Contrary to my expectations, I found it a little hard to love,” writes Barbara Scharres at “To has a way with action choreography that has the feel of a musical, and Blind Detective looks to be off to a good start.” But: “The plot pretty much falls apart in the course of these multiple and not particularly well-staged reenactments, which are played for cheap laughs. Sorry to say, Blind Detective reeks of being hurriedly scripted. I began to wonder if I was watching a film by Wong Jing (a notorious Hong Kong hack director).”

It’s “a deranged and delirious smorgasbord of a movie,” grants Justin Chang in Variety. “Even devotees of [To] and his frequent collaborator, producer/co-writer Wai Ka-fai, may not be entirely sure what to make of this unusually demented romp, a madcap mystery-romance that sustains a light, bouncy tone and a decent hit-to-miss laff ratio even in scenes involving strangulation, dismemberment and cannibalism.” The film’s also “a showcase for star Andy Lau’s most unhinged, physically nimble performance in some time.”

Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter: “This is the seventh collaboration overall between the versatile Lau and sparky Cheng, and their fourth with To—the last time that the so-called ‘box office golden team’ worked together was 2004’s Yesterday Once More. And while multi-award-winning singer/actor Lau has maintained his usual Stakhanovite work-rate in the interim, ‘Queen of Pop’ Cheng’s big-screen appearances have been more intermittent—To’s Romancing in Thin Air was touted last year as a ‘comeback’ role.” And while Blind Detective “has the makings of a solid summer box-office proposition in the territory,” it’s nonetheless “a cartoonishly broad mashup of genres that mistakes hectic shrillness for comic energy.”

Update: “The filmmaker appears to be cramming an entire career’s worth of ideas into 130 minutes, flailing from slapstick comedy to doomed romance to police procedural from scene to scene,” finds Jordan Cronk at the House Next Door. “By the time the film calms down in its second half, settling into a more compelling investigative angle, the audience will have endured an entire gamut of genre stylings, with hijinks at the expense of the titular hero and broad regional humor that doesn’t appear to jibe with the gravity of the characters’ intended goal of apprehending a killer who’s avoided judgment for over a half decade. Like Miike, To doesn’t stick to logic or continuity: There are two willfully ridiculous sequences where our blind detective drives a car while, of course, acknowledging that he cannot, indeed, even see what he’s doing—and while To’s ambitious amalgam of comedic trappings and grisly crime analysis is just odd enough to remain of interest, it’s also atonal in ways that contrast jarringly with best recent work, such as Life Without Principle and Romancing in Thin Air.”

Update, 5/22: Adam Cook in the Notebook: “In spirit, it made me think of Howard Hawks’s Monkey Business with Andy Lau hamming it up not unlike Cary Grant. As always, it seems difficult not to link To to classical Hollywood.… I think Blind Detective may the most texturally rich and structurally complex film I’ve seen here. It has the most going on, not just in terms of story, but in the details of its execution, and yet it’s received on a lesser scale than some fairly dull, obvious, and ultimately, easier films, that have played here. There’s really no doubt any my mind that out of every film I’ve seen, the two that required the most filmic skill to make were Miike’s Shield of Straw and Blind Detective.”

Update, 5/23: “There’s still something fascinating about the relentlessness of the humor, which manages to make light of murder, cannibalism and oversexed grandmas among other wild targets,” writes Time Out New York‘s Keith Uhlich. “It also helps that To treats the proceedings like a master-goofing-off lark, and that Lau and Cheng have an alternately aggravating and ingratiating chemistry that suggests Nick and Nora Charles as played by Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. A Looney time, alright.”

Cannes 2013 Index. And you can watch over 100 films that have seen their premieres in Cannes right here on Fandor. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at

Did you like this article?
Give it a vote for a Golden Bowtie


Keyframe is always looking for contributors.

"Writer? Video Essayist? Movie Fan Extraordinaire?

Fandor is streaming on Amazon Prime

Love to discover new films? Browse our exceptional library of hand-picked cinema on the Fandor Amazon Prime Channel.