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Lobster Cop
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by Jay Seaver

"Underdog cop film that earns a little respect."
3 stars

"Lobster Cop" may not necessarily be the best "undercover cops find they enjoy their cover story" comedy ever made, but a fairly decent one. It's got a brisk pace, a grimy messiness that seems to fit with its plot than the usual upscale setting, and gags that are just familiar enough to work without overplaying but not lazy. It's not groundbreaking, but it's a capable comedy that gets the job done.

It starts with a drug bust that can best be described as going so-so, which is par for the course with Squad 8 - motormouth leader Du Yufei (Wang Qianyuan), scruffy Hua Jie (Yuan Shanshan), rookie Chen Li (Zhou You), and veteran Neng Shu (Liu Hua). It leads them up the chain to gangsters Song Hui (Zhou Yunpeng) and Dong Zi (Cao Xing), although Du would much rather be watching the ones all the way up. They stumble onto a run-down crayfish restaurant that offers them a perfect surveillance point for Song's "logistics company", and wind up buying it. The plan is to keep it closed, but it turns out that Neng is a natural chef, and they're soon packed to the walls, with one loyal customer (Zhang Jincheng) especially fond of Neng and his cooking.

There are times when it seems like writer/director Li Xinyun (sometimes credited on other films as "Sabrina Li" or "Li Xiaofeng") was substantially more ruthless in the editing room than most Chinese directors who see their films cross the Pacific; Lobster Cop is 94 minutes including credits whose outtakes hint at subplots that have only the very smallest portions still remaining in the film. That's not necessarily a bad thing overall - I wonder if Li's own experience as an actress put it in her head that that Hua Jie plays more interesting with less material if what's cut is just a perfunctory thread pairing her off with one of the male characters - but it does leave what feel a bit like odd stubs on the movie at times. Fortunately, most of the plot-advancing bits also have a good joke or two in them, and though many of them are just worth a chuckle, relatively few fall completely flat. Li gets good mileage out of both the "family-owned restaurant" and the "logistics company" pushing at each other while trying to hide their true nature, as well as Du's seething envy of Squad 1. Mileage will vary on some - given that the best surveillance point is in the bathroom, there's a fair amount of literal toilet humor and basic horror at the grunginess of the place, and Uncle Nine's apparent crush on Neng often crosses the line from "you're mistaken" to gay panic material.

Even when the jokes are basic, Li's cast is well-deployed. Wang Qianyuan hits the mark where Du is pushy and frustrated without actually annoying the audience more often than not, while Zhou Yunpeng and Cao Xing make a good pair of odd-couple villains. Yuan Shanshan brings a great tough-chick energy to Hua that works even when she's not playing that much brighter than Wang's Du, although Zhou You often gets lost as Chen Li. The real scene-stealer, though, is Liu Hua, who brings seemingly casual perfect comic timing to every scene and can present the absurd with just the right amount of ironic detachment without seeming arch and above the movie. He's holding the movie together and making it work even though Zhou Yunpeng seems to be positioned as the star.

It's also got pretty good action for an action-comedy - maybe not "Jackie Chan at his Hong Kong peak" quality, but that's the sort of comparison that comes to mind when the fights play out. There's a lot of good slapstick embedded into what play as for-real fights, the sort where someone trying to defend themselves with frying pans or stumbling about with a knife in his shoulder in "can you believe this crap?" frustration gets laughs but not as jokes that yank the audience away from the danger. The cast and stunt crew look like they know what they're doing, and it's not just shot and choreographed well but cut together in a way that keeps momentum going across three locations in the end.

I'd actually be really curious to see Li directing Chan or someone like him in this sort of movie - though her script often seems rough, she's got a good eye for what bits the movie needs and what bits would just bog it down, and she either knows good action or can work well with a quality crew. That's enough to get by in this genre, and "Lobster Cop" is a bit better than good enough.

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originally posted: 06/25/18 08:20:29
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  22-Jun-2018 (M)

Directed by
  Xinyun Li

Written by
  Xinyun Li

  Qianyuan Wang
  Shanshan Yuan
  Hua Liu

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