Breaking News Review

The first part of this review is reprinted from my review of the Tartan release for Breaking News

The Film


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One moment you're riding high on ironic celebrity with other celebrities tending to your every whim and then you drop your guard and become the prejudiced person you really are. Suddenly the sky falls in, the nation turns against you and newspapers like the Daily Mail write hypocritical pieces about your racism. If only you'd been able to do something about it rather than stay locked up in the TV prison you are staying in. If only you could talk about all of your black friends and your abused childhood and your utter shame and penitence to a variety of magazines and talkshows, then the damage would have been limited. If you'd only been able to react quickly then after a couple of months of self flagellation and anti racist charity work, that second volume of your auto-biography could have hit the bookstores. It just goes to show that in our modern world, everyone needs PR and media management.

This is the basic premise of Johnnie To's Breaking News. When a stakeout and attempted arrest of a gang of robbers goes badly wrong, the media gets pictures of cowering and surrendering policemen rather than the preferable image of the defeat of the evil criminal. As voters react to this footage on their TV, politicians are already on the warpath and using the police as a political football and public confidence in law and order hits rock bottom. Whilst the original cops chase down the gang, the rest of the police force is organised to provide "a great show" for the watching media and public. Rebecca Fong directs the action in the fight against the robbers and manages the news and when the gang is found in a block of flats, she sees her chance to undo the damage done to the Hong Kong police's reputation. She has two problems though - Cheung won't obey orders and may ruin her efforts, and the robbers know how to play the media game too.

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As I said, it is a terrific premise and there are moments of Fong's media skills which will be horribly familiar to those of us aware of the management of bad news. Faced with little progress to tell the media, Fong re-edits the footage they have of prosaic journeys with stirring music, and confrontations which resulted in impasse are re-presented more progressively - as her ultra capable assistant says "we'll fix it in the editing". The gang of robbers fight back with their own media offensive - pictures of the police beaten back and a scene of their hostages enjoying lunch. Fong, not to be outdone, arranges packed lunches for the journalists! This part of the film works really well and Kelly Chen is icy as the media savvy cop and had the film kept to this satirical drama perhaps Breaking News would have worked better.

What compromises the film is its efforts to play to what represents a Johnnie To movie. It complicates the central notion by throwing in an action vehicle, some romance, some criminal brotherhood and an earnest rogue cop, and this means that the plot descends into a whole heap of confusion and the early impetus is lost when switching between the two sets of cops and the three sets of baddies involved in the whole affair. Five or six plot strands can be weaved into a thoroughly satisfying action film, but Breaking News ends up with competing storylines and a lack of proper exposition in all of them. To make up for a lack of backstory, the film relies on hints of character with Fong presumably being the ex lover of her boss and the robbers ending up forming a pact with some killers in the style of Strangers on a Train simply because they make a meal together.

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When the action flows it is up with the usual standards of the director and the opening stakeout scene is bravura with an audacious continuous long take crane and tracking shot. The opening chase and the siege are well put together and it is only when the film tries to build up some repartee between Fong and the gang that the story falls apart, veering towards bad comedy and weak melodrama in its lack of confidence in the drama on show. The performances are limited by the excessive plotting and the result is a lot of two dimensional people who respond to this explosion or that. Still it is Johnnie To, and simply for the satire on media and the opening crane shot it will rock your world. Patchy but definitely worth the effort.

Transfer and Sound

To be fair to the transfer, it does need to be said that there are a lot of sequences within the main feature which find themselves out of focus at some point, and that the very opening has looked very dark and blocky in previous DVD incarnations as well. Taking these points on board the transfer quality here is good to very good with much better detail outside of the opening. This looked a lot more colourful than the standard def versions I had previously seen and this is still a film that concentrates on a high contrast low colour aesthetic. Edges never bothered me and shades are well calibrated outside of the opening - the extra definition does show up a few of the digital effects though. The film retains a decent level of grain throughout. All of the screenshots here can be seen in full 1080 captures.

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In addition to two standard def 5.1 EX tracks, this release boast a lossless True HD 7.1 mix which really does the business. In the opening gunfight bullets rain all over the soundstage with tremendous bass impeccably defined, the full range of speakers are deployed for effects and some voices throughout and the rare moments of the score are reproduced well. By contrast the standard definition tracks are limp and lack power. The English subs for this release ensure that the action is always easy to follow with only a few grammatical slip ups.

Discs and Special Features

This is an all region BD 25 with 18.9GB used for the main transfer out of the 20.8GB used in total. Stealing a march on other HK companies Megastar include 1080P trailers and menu, along with English subtitles for the trailers. The menu itself includes excerpts from the film with static options available for the extras, scenes, and setup. The sole other extra is a short, unsubtitled teaser showing the film's shooting which does involve a few instances of talking to camera so it ain't easy for an English speaker to follow.

Summary

A little flawed in its execution, Breaking News is still an interesting movie from the man who has re-invented cops and robbers for the modern audience. The Megastar disc has a good transfer, some hi-def extras and more English subs than you'd expect from an Asian release.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
4 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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