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Witness Out of the Blue, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Not the cop/parrot buddy movie I wanted, but still pretty good!"
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2020 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: It is entirely fair to want more of the parrot in "A Witness Out of the Blue"; it's the hook in the opening scene and the focus of the opening credits, and probably what you'd bring up when describing the movie to someone else. The good news is that even if the movie doesn't have as many parrot-related shenanigans as one might hope, it's a nicely twisty little mystery that does a bit of everything, to the point where it's almost too much.

The crime is the murder of Homer Tsui (Deep Ng Ho-Hong), and though it should be open-and-shut for detective Larry Lam (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) and his pattern Charmaine (Cherry Ngan Cheuk-Ling) - Tsui was part of a crew that robbed a jewelry shop three months earlier and ringleader Seang Wong (Louis Koo Tin-Lok) was seen leaving the room - the only actual witness to the crime is Tsui's parrot. Lam would investigate this, and according to his captain Yip Sau-Ching (Philip Keung Hiu-Man), that sort of thing is why Lam's colleagues nicknamed him "Garbage". Yip is laser-focused on Wong because they have a long history right up to one of Yip's undercovers being killed in the robbery. The thing is, Wong isn't particularly behaving like a guilty man but more like someone trying to solve the crime on his own, subletting a nearby room from half-blind Joy (Jessica Hester) and poking around, leading Lam to look at other suspects, from accomplices Clark Auyeung (Sam Lee Chan-Sam) and "Redhead" (Ling Man-Lung); to butcher Bull Yiu (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man), whose mother had a heart attack during the robbery, shop employee Sandy Yeung (Fiona Sit hoi-Kei), who sustained a spinal injury, and boyfriend Tony Ho (Andy On Chi-Kit), a guard at the shop; to the captain himself.

There's also a subplot about Lam being in hock to a loan shark (Evergreen Mak Cheung-Ching) because he's built a cat sanctuary on top of an apartment building, and then there are the three elderly flatmates with whom Joy shares her apartment. It's kind of a lot, and while a fair amount is not necessary, that's part and parcel of it being a mystery; something has to be explained away, something outside the main plot has to give a character an idea that connects the dots, and so on. There are times when the clutter gets to be just a bit much - a character exits off-screen in such a way that a viewer might wonder if he's meant to actually be dead, for instance, and for all that the parrot is a lot of fun, writer/director Andrew Fung Chih-Chiang doesn't find a way to keep him at the center.

What he does manage is to build something that is both a serious crime movie and a breezy mystery, often more tilted toward the former, a bit surprising considering that he has spent much of his career writing broad comedies with Stephen Chow. A large part of what makes the blend work is the way that each of the three leads pushes at the expected characterizations: None of them are actually playing their characters as funny, but they all seem to be pushing at the edge of where they're played straight: Louis Koo, in particular, plays Wong as almost too intense, such that it initially seems like he's an action-movie villain who has wandered into this mystery by accident, but the exaggerated gruffness isn't a put-on or quite a poke at the trope. Koo seems to be hitting a narrow target and doing it better than when he's trying to play it entirely straight. It's a neat contrast to Louis Cheung, whose Larry isn't exactly hapless but does tend to be sloppy and distracted, and when it comes time for cops-and-robbers stuff, he almost always gets outclassed. Meanwhile, Philip Keung is the mirror image of Louis Koo as Yip Sau-Ching - exaggeratedly intense, but not quite to the point of parody.

Knowing what he's got going on with these different genres means Fung can be clever about how he switches things around, with a couple of eyebrow-raising moments as things are suddenly more high-stakes than they appeared or being able to find a laugh in every moment when Lam confronts Wong or in Wong's awkward interplay with a new sidekick. He mostly avoids things getting shaky toward the end, when Lam's got to actually solve the case and the film's got to find a satisfying way for things to end with Wong, and he probably could have done a lot more with Cherry Ngan's Charmaine (and, really, all the women in the film).

"A Witness Out of the Blue" isn't quite the light mystery-comedy that it looks like, but it's good enough that this won't necessarily be a problem for very long. Yes, I would have liked more with the parrot (and maybe less with bugs), but there's a pretty decent movie here if you enjoy it for what it is rather than what it looks like.

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originally posted: 09/08/20 09:36:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2020 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Chi-Keung Fung

Written by
  Chi-Keung Fung

  Louis Koo
  Louis Cheung
  Jessica Hester
  Cherry Ngan
  Philip Keung
  Fiona Sit
  Patrick Tam
  Andy On

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