What do a jaded cop, a master criminal, and a parrot have in common? They find themselves locked into a combative world of robberies, murder, and double crosses where their lives will forever be changed by the lack of honor among thieves.
A Witness Out of the Blue, directed by Andrew Fung, captures this with wit and a sense of enthusiasm that proves quite compelling, as the Hong Kong crime thriller looks to sympathize and dig into the human nature of those on both sides of the law.
Louis Koo brings massive star quality to the film as Sean Wong, a man who finds himself caught up in two crimes: one of his own doing, a jewelry store heist, and another where he is framed, the murder of his heist partner. He sets off not only to claim back the bounty but to avenge his partner, all while jaded cop Larry Lam (played by Louis Cheung) tries to battle both a lack of respect from his superiors and a difficult witness who only knows a few words to put the pieces together.
Its initial success comes through humanizing its cast of characters, where their guards are gradually dropped and their personalities, some gruff and some aloof, rise to the top to give a better picture of who they are beyond the labels of cop and robber. This is done especially well with Sean Wong, as his hardened shell starts to soften as he gets to know those he rents a room with and sees the pain everyone faces in their daily lives.
This is an underpinning that the film really uses to its advantage, the issue of living on the edge of poverty and trying to scrape by. Every character is conflicted by it, whether they will admit so or not, from Larry’s rundown cat sanctuary home to the dilapidated places where some of the film’s best action takes place. It helps to drive the plight of the robbery and how many hands are involved in trying to grab it up for themselves after the fact, even as the walls close in and all hope is lost.
Louis Koo is the driving power of this film, and he does it with such a compelling performance. His character is lost inside himself, tormented by the rot of his profession while he starts to see what kindness can give to others. He may be unwilling to grow closer to others in the beginning, but with little to no friends left, the shell starts to come free and allows quick glimpses of the goodness under his criminality. Koo is sensational during these moments, especially as guilt starts to eat away at him during a specific scene in the third act. He also sells the action with magnetism and blunt force.
The filmmaking does a fantastic job to not only dig inside the heads of the characters, but also through providing a bird’s eye view at moments of great impact. Either the camera or a character is usually watching from above at key points, giving the lay of the land as the investigation spirals out of control. This is in contrast to when the film becomes more action-oriented, which is when the walls around them feel so tight and constricting, claustrophobia playing a big part when facing a dangerous foe with nowhere to run.
As for the parrot, he proves important, but is mostly there for some comic relief on the side. The film has a gentle hand toward animals, and should be commended for the kindness it instills. Besides, the parrot likes to call people either “genius” or “idiot,” which frankly should become a movement.
A Witness Out of the Blue is a genuinely enthusiastic crime thriller with a sense of humor, where the lackadaisical nature of its lead cop and the oddities of its peripheral characters help add an edge to the very strict and tense nature of the investigation and the vigilante style of its antihero in Sean Wong. It’s not a bombastic action fest, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a thriller about the prospect of a better life, and what you’re willing to do to fight for it.