A belated review for one of my favorite films of 2016 to get ready for the sequel. Detective Chinatown 2 will be distributed by Warner Bros in the U.S. and will open in 48 markets (biggest in a long time for a Chinese film).
A clean and twist-filled mystery embellished with well-executed humor and splashes of romance kept me on the edge of my seats for Detective Chinatown 唐人街探案. The buddy cop flick from actor-turned-director Chen Sicheng proves that he continues to be one of China’s best
young commercial directors.
When the reserved mystery novel nerd Qin Feng (Liu Haoran) is sent to spend the summer with his uncle, ne’er-do-well Bangkok Chinatown P.I. Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang), the two immediately clash and Qin Feng is ready to leave. Yet before Qin Feng can leave, Tang Ren is framed for a murder, and Qin Feng is baited into helping him clear his name.
Despite mostly being sold as a comedy, the series has one of the most well-made crime plots among recent Chinese films. While other mystery films often feel either too pretentious with insights into human nature or too sophomoric with amateur directing/editing, Detective Chinatown felt like a polished mystery film fitting for a blockbuster. The mystery-solving is filled with unexpected twists, well-motivated suspects, and plenty of humor and chase scenes to make it exciting.
The comedy is sharper and more varied than the typical Wang Baoqiang comedy, although some of the misogynistic raunchiness remains. There are also notably a few comedic fights that’s a callback to older martial arts comedies of Hong Kong. Liu Haoran works well as the reserved nerd, while Zhang Zifeng shines as Snow, a seemingly normal student with secrets of her own.
I watched this movie on a hotel TV while I was trapped in Shanghai by a hurricane. I didn’t know Liu Hao Ran at the time, but an hour later he became my favorite person.
Be sure to catch him in Nirvana in Fire 2!