Screened at Cannes in 2004, Breaking News is opening in a limited number of theaters prior to its release on DVD. On the surface a gripping, twisty cop thriller, the film also tackles how the media influences the behavior of both police and criminals. More important, it is another in a long line of expertly made Johnnie To films. While it may not be the director's best work, it has some knockout sequences.
Chief among them is the opening, a seven-minute shot that starts with a panorama of the Hong Kong skyline, drops to street level, ascends up and into an apartment, and then floats out over a city block to document a botched police stakeout and its violent aftermath. Captured on TV, the bloodbath threatens to send the police department's popularity with the public plummeting. Inspector Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen) comes up with the idea to take control of the media by feeding it the police version of the subsequent investigation.
Detective Cheung (Nicky Cheung), a streetwise, old-school cop, pursues the crooks his way, skirting the law and ignoring Fong's orders to drop the case. But when he corners them in an apartment complex, Fong takes control, ordering the evacuation of the building. The evacuation flushes out two other crooks who complicate Fong's efforts. That's when Yuen (Richie Jen), the chief crook, forces his way into an apartment, taking cab driver Yip (Lam Suet) and his two young children hostage.
Bookended by extraordinary action sequences, Breaking News has its share of lulls during the hostage negotiations. But To knows how to get the best out of his actors, especially the reliable Lam Suet, a fixture in his films. Also notable is You Yong, who plays a cornered hit man with grace and humor. Cheung, better known in Hong Kong for his comedies, is striking as a hard-bitten cop who responds to every calamity with, "I'm going to nail the bastard."
To's satirical look at the media surrounding the hostage crisis sometimes feels a bit obvious, but otherwise Breaking News is an admirably professional and efficient piece of work that ranks far above recent Hollywood thrillers. The restless camerawork, taut editing, and brilliant split-screen montages provide the tension and technical expertise that have become hallmarks of To's directing. After The Longest Nite, The Mission, Fulltime Killer, PTU and last year's Election, he is amassing one of the best resumes in Hong Kong film. It's a shame no distributor here has taken a chance on the director's equally impressive romantic comedies like My Left Eye Sees Ghosts or Turn Left, Turn Right.