Would you like some pre-Hong-Kong-handover cultural semiotics with your violent, freewheeling good-cop melodrama?


original title: Saang Gong yat ho tung chap faan
Hong Kong, 1994, Che Kirk Wong

“I want to kill you, on behalf of heaven!”

A resolutely psychedelic opening features what I can only describe as a celestial demon-sea-horse, unfurling its tale across the cosmos to a fanfare of synthesizers: an auspicious beginning for:

A film with true style, Rock n’ Roll Cop wastes no time setting the baddies and goodies a healthy arm’s length from one another.

Apparently criminally-unversed in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat school of hack screenwriting, the first thing a gangster does in this movie is whack an offending feline (“That cat’s looking at you!”) against a wall, hard enough to produce a bloody, cat-shaped smear.

Rock n’ Roll Cop is great at other things too. The light is often sensuous and boldly colored-in to one monochrome palate or another from setting to setting or, more bravely, from shot to shot.

It somewhat gleefully follows the titular hero as he solves a series of crimes responsible for the destruction of his record collection (stored and sold out of a cart in Hong Kong’s seething and seedy Mong Kok district.)

The film is only hampered by its unwillingness to be anything but heartily normal. The plot is relentlessly cookie-cutter and lacks any procedural rigor. Fleeting style is the best Che Kirk Wong seems, here, capable of. Any exploitation aspirations seem intentionally muted in favor of buddy-cop swaggery and eventual collapse.

Rock n’ Roll Cop himself then accompanies a charming young woman on a conveniently-nearby guitar after she loses her sheet music, improvising courageously enough to save the day—sort of.

Rock n’ Roll Cop is foolhardy or brave enough to involve itself (rather constantly and painfully) in the dialogue between China’s past and future. The present is full of sadistic gangsters and sensitive cops, but we see glimpses of the future in the upwardly urban sprawl, and the past in the traditional Chinese music.

There’s a clash between traditional values (China) and capitalistic-hedonism (Hong Kong) that drives all the movie’s best buddy-cop hysteria. At one point, either touchingly or laughably, the two heroes serenade a martyred babe on, respectively, an acoustic guitar and a traditional Chinese instrument.

Every advance or retreat of the HKPD is impeded, and often blocked altogether, by traffic congestion. It happens in Shenzhen too. There’s a real poignancy to the paralysis, and if it’s there to fuel narrative urgency: it’s kind of working.

While the ramifications of urban China’s traffic congestion sometimes turn out tragic, there’s also some functioning comedy to be found in new technology being dropped into a sometimes low-tech world, as when a gangster throws himself into the driver’s seat of a getaway car and then admits to his boss that he can’t drive (which is not to say that cars are new in China.)

In its ingenious and shockingly rapid descent into a camp-climax, Rock n’ Roll Cop offers mid-air shoot outs, rolling-through-the-mud shoot outs, a shoot out on a very small boat, severed prosthetics, a very prominent meat-cleaver, and a lot of shouting. This one’s worth a watch. I’ll leave you with some advice from Hong Kong’s most irreverent, music-savvy cop…

“Be Tough, Just Like the Spirit of Rock n’ Roll.” – Rock n’ Roll Cop.