By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I couldn’t choose between the Duck Mascot Fu or the Cheap Spiderman Costume Fu. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.
“Detective Chinatown 2,” directed by Sicheng Chen, picks up where the hit original “Detective Chinatown” left off. Once more, we’re watching Haoran Liu as Qin, the intense, shy, and soft-spoken detective mastermind with a photographic memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of the world around him. He can run any riddle, puzzle, code, or cipher to the ground in seconds. He just can’t make eye contact with other people. And he definitely can’t talk to females.
And once again, we’re watching Baoqiang Wang as Tang, who calls himself Qin’s uncle. As a practical matter, though, you wouldn’t want Tang hanging from your family tree, or, indeed, anywhere near anyone you cared about. He brags, boasts, and mugs shamelessly for the camera and for anyone else in the frame, and delights in taking all the credit when he deserves none whatsoever. He might deserve less-than-zero, for all the trouble he shakes up.
The first film, also directed by Chen, found the mismatched duo in Bangkok, with Qin trying to pull Tang out of a murder charge (Tang was innocent, but a man as sleazy as Tang always looks guilty). For the second movie, it’s off to New York City, where the son of an Asian business magnate has been murdered, and detectives from all over the world gather to try to solve the crime. A huge reward awaits the successful and/or lucky party who figures it out.
Realistically though, the plot means little except as an excuse to put Qin, Tang, and the others through their paces. Duck Mascot Fu. Cheap Spiderman Costume Fu. Riots. Races. Chases, endless chases.
The other sleuths hail from various points all over the world, which gives the script plenty of chances to revel in racial and cultural stereotypes. I’m obliged to call this offensive, though I’ll note in passing that the story holds nobody, and no kind of people, sacred, not even Chinese. Every race, color, and creed gets slagged and tweaked some way or another.
One murder turns into another and blood begins to spill all over Manhattan, leaving the mismatched duo scampering from one end of the island to the other, dragging their competition behind them, along with police and hangers-on.
Tang, always resplendent in outfits that look freshly bought from tourist-trap bodegas (I longed for the shirt patterned in American hundred-dollar bills) isn’t above groping a few women along the way. I couldn’t speak to what passes muster in Hong Kong cinemas, but although such things would have passed muster until recently, I feel obliged to say that things in America are changing, quickly and powerfully.
And such things as this sort of thing are getting left out in the cold. I call that progress.
The filmmakers didn’t mean to seriously offend anyone. I understand that. But racial, sexual, smutty, superior humor isn’t cutting it anymore in this country. I laughed a few times. I felt guilty each time. I’m looking forward to better films this year, better comedies, and better progress.
“Detective Chinatown 2” opens Feb. 16 at local theaters. Check local listings for prices, showtimes, and other information.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.