Confession of Pain Review
It was always going to be difficult for Andrew Lau and Alan Mak to move on from the international success of their Infernal Affairs trilogy, particularly with it attracting further attention as the source of the film which gave the Academy the excuse to award Scorcese an Oscar for The Departed. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the creative team hasn’t moved too far away from the cops and crime genre, turning in another glossy, stylish, colourful, award-winning cop drama, with a strong pairing of leads in Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro.
The film sets out it stall very nicely in the smooth prelude, introducing two cops who each in their own way find it difficult to handle the ugliness and pain of a senselessly violent world. Chief Hei (Tony Leung) is a cop who dispenses his own immediate justice a suspect they have been tailing, the perpetrator of series of violent sexual crimes. Feeling that the law is ineffective, too caught up in paperwork and crime figure statistics, he is prepared to act outside the law to see justice done. On the same night, his clean-living, non-drinking colleague Bong (Kaneshiro) is also brought harshly down to earth by the violent reality of the world they live in, devastated by the apparent suicide of his pregnant girlfriend Rachel.
The shock drives Bong out of the police service and he becomes an alcoholic Private Investigator who, in-between divorce and adultery cases, conducts his own investigation the circumstances of that fateful night, trying to understand what drove Rachel to kill herself. The Chief however moves on to better things and gets married, but when his wife’s rich and influential father Chow and his butler are brutally killed, and she herself appears to be the victim of a dangerous stalker, Hei asks Bong to help the police out with the investigation, as he is too close to the case to look into it himself.
Like Infernal Affairs, Confession of Pain is not so much concerned with unveiling any mystery figure – the killer’s identity is made known to the viewer through a number of stylishly shot sequences, including one beautifully photographed in black-and-white as a reconstruction – as much as getting underneath the character’s motivations and the psychological impact of dealing on a day-to-day basis with a world of murky activity, lies, double-dealing and extreme violence. Evidently, the characters relationship with women comes into play here – as much for the change of pace and tone as for rounding out the situation - showing the effect their work has on their ability to lead normal lives.
As far as that goes, Confession of Pain ticks off all the boxes for a perfectly pitched cop drama, meticulously plotted without too much complexity, clearly defining characters and their motivations, and delivering the situation with a sense of style. The production values are impressive, the Hong Kong location shooting is beautiful, the soundtrack seductive, but with the focus on characterisation and in the absence of explosive action sequences and car chases, much then rests on the strength of the acting talent. Fortunately, the casting here is almost flawless, with both Leung and Kaneshiro delivering strong, charismatic performances. Inevitably, many will say that Shu Qi is wasted, being reduced to an eye-candy, love interest role – but, let’s be honest, that’s what she does best.
The flaws however seem to be within the actual characters themselves, the world-weariness of the lead characters certainly being justified and well explained within the film, but not really being enough to carry the weight of the film, which is consequently rather one-note and lacking in any real tension, taking itself far more seriously and into Michael Mann territory than is really good for it. A few more car chases or shoot-outs actually wouldn’t have gone amiss here and been more in keeping with the glossy superficiality of the not particularly original crime/revenge plot. It’s consequently slow in places, occasionally frustrating and never fully engages the viewer, but there is nonetheless much to admire in Confession of Pain’s melancholic, elegant glide through its characters’ pain and suffering.
Confession of Pain is released in Hong Kong by Media Asia. The DVD is available as a 2-disc Special Edition, the film and extrafeatures spread over two dual-layer discs. The amaray box is slipcased with a 24-page booklet of large-format heavy paper stock postcard images and stills from the film. The set is encoded for Region 3.
Media Asia’s video transfer of the film is one of the best I have ever seen from the label. Colours are rich and well saturated – if possibly a little over-saturated in some interior locations – and the image is clear and sharp, showing good detail even in medium to wide shots. There is no sign of any noticeable edge-enhancement, no motion blurring and no compression artefacts. If I’m being ultra picky, I’d note some minor posterisation in fades at the end and start of scenes, and shadow detail is not quite perfect, but there is nothing serious here to merit marking the transfer down. All in all, this is a very impressive transfer for an impressive looking film.
The super high-quality audio tracks complement the fine transfer, the Cantonese DTS-ES track noticeably stronger than the Dolby Surround EX option, with a superior dynamic range that handles all aspects of the soundtrack well, from crystal clear dialogue, to the warm music score and the thundering action sequences. A Mandarin Cantonese Dolby Surround EX dub is also included.
Optional English subtitles are provided in a clear white font. Although they show the occasional awkwardness in phrasing, they are generally fine and free from any grammatical issues.
The extra features are all on Disc 2 of the Special Edition DVD. None of them have English subtitles. There is a Making Of (15:00), which is the standard EPK piece of interviews, clips and a little bit of behind-the-scenes footage. Much more detailed is the three and a half hour (I kid you not) AV Blog (3.37:30), which covers the film’s shooting schedule from 28/06/06 through to 06/09/06 in 38 chapters. Taking in everything from set dressing, on-set rehearsals, storyboarding and actual filming, this is certainly the most comprehensive features of its kind that I have ever come across. Without English subtitles however, I can’t say that whether it is worthwhile viewing, but I have a sneaking suspicion it might be a case of overkill. There is also a Press Conference (9:45) with principal cast and crew, three Trailers two of which, (1.28) and (1:55), are just music and images, the third (2:17), the full trailer with dialogue sequences and no subtitles. Two TV Spots (0:15) and (0:30) come with a voice-over, and the extras are rounded out with a Photo Gallery (20).
Confession of Pain delivers just about everything you could expect from Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, working very much within the same territory as the Infernal Affairs films. Every plot element seems perfectly designed, every performance is delightful to watch, the screen is a constant feast for the eyes, yet Confession of Pain never adds up to anything more than the sum of its parts and fails to break through its beautiful glossy surface melancholy with anything approaching real feeling. With a superb transfer to DVD by Media Asia, this is nonetheless a classy piece of filmmaking, but a somewhat unengaging experience for the viewer.