The protagonist Mike (Daniel Wu) is being buried alive in a shallow grave. As his voice-over begins to explain, he had always wanted to be a somebody, even if now he looks about to become a nobody.

But, let's begin at the beginning. The young cop's over-enthusiastic enforcement of the law - a restaurant shoot-out that leaves some low-ranking lowlifes dead - brings him to the attention of his superior as the ideal man to go undercover and infiltrate the Hung Hing gang.

With bravery, wit and a stroke of good fortune, Mike's mission is swiftly accomplished. True, it costs him his relationship with girlfriend Anya, but the gangster life brings plenty of compensations, not least boss Tin's (Eric Tsang) wife, Pauline (Suki Kwan). Soon, Mike is in way too deep, so enamoured with his new lifestyle that his mission changes from breaking the gang to becoming its number one...

Comparisons with Infernal Affairs are inevitable - divided loyalties, duplicity, double crosses and the formidable presence of Mr Tsang. Okay, it's not quite as good and the fact that the script is credited to "not a woman" gives some idea of the filmmakers' aspirations, or apparent lack thereof.

Long time Tsui Hark editor Marco Mak directs with confidence and flair, drawing the spectator in with Mike in the best Goodfellas tradition and is ably assisted by his three leads, with Wu and Kwan showing more dramatic range and guts than their pretty boy/girl status might lead one to expect, while Tsang - ex-footballer turned stuntman, writer, producer, director and actor - once again gives Danny De Vito a run for his money in the small-guy-with-big-talent contest.

If the script is laden with improbabilities - Mike's rise and fall feels too rapid to be credible, even if we can accept that he does in a few months what Donnie Brasco took several years to accomplish - there are countervailing nuances.

Note, for instance, Tin's sexual dysfunction - the legacy of a rival triad's blade - and the way it not only provides a plausible, if perverse, rationale for his unarticulated feelings towards Mike - is the young man son and heir, or something else? - but also perhaps taps into the evil eunuch idea found in many wuxia. After all, the idea of xia, or chivalry, permeates both the pian to which it gives its name - casual viewers can think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House Of Flying Daggers, long-term enthusiasts the old and new Dragon Gate Inns - but also the Heroic Bloodshed of John Woo and Ringo Lam from which Cop On A Mission can perhaps most clearly trace its lineage.

If Infernal Affairs is The Godfather of the Hong Kong crime film, Cop On A Mission is itsCarlito's Way - not quite there with the all-time greats, but certainly worthy of attention.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2005
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Cop On A Mission packshot
An undercover cop infiltrates a Hong Kong gang and learns to like it.
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Director: Marco Mak

Writer: Not A Woman (sic)

Starring: Daniel Wu, Eric Tsang, Suki Kwan, Anya

Year: 2001

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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