Cop Image

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Before they shocked audiences with Ebola Syndrome (1996), director Herman Yau Lai-To and actor Anthony Wong made Cop Image (1994). Cop Image, unlike the pair’s previous outing Taxi Hunter (1993), is a tame little comedy that pokes fun at the cop movies of Danny Lee and Jackie Chan. Anthony Wong plays a rather charming doofus whose obsession with cop movies leads him to actualize his fantasies in reality, immersing him in a case of armed robbery, missing persons, and loan sharks. The tone and modus operandi of Cop Image is that of a Don Knotts comedy rather than a Category III sleaze fest.

The film opens with a slow montage of cop movie posters as the credits roll, gradually revealing the details of Wong Ging-Sing’s (Anthony Wong) apartment. Before the audience can glimpse Anthony Wong they take in the images of Chow Yun-Fat, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Jackie Chan, and Steven Seagal. Wong then appears, wearing a t-shirt with the poster for Black Rain (1989) printed on it but with Wong’s head printed where Michael Douglas’ face should be. Wong is one of us, a film nerd, whose inner life is completely immersed in the films that he sees and loves.

This dorky protagonist is not only fundamentally likable, but he serves as an effective means for Herman Yau Lai-To to subvert and satirize the cop movie genre. Whenever there is a shoot out Wong attempts to re-create a stunt from one of his cherished films. Sometimes he even has to do a second take because his behavior is met with complete befuddlement. Herman Yau has Wong give his best version of John Woo’s slow motion gun-fu only to see our hero land flat on his face. Later, Wong attempts Jackie Chan’s famous bus stunt only to be accidentally jettisoned from one vehicle to the next.

Wong’s world is a fantasy world where the cinema has bled into his reality with little thought on his part as to how this will effect the people around him. Wong is charming but his priority is always to maintain the integrity of his elaborate role-playing. This costs his informant (Andy Hui) and key witness (Linda Wong) a great deal of blood, trauma, and general trouble. Cop Image is in many ways just a more high stakes iteration of the opening scene of Merton Of The Movies (1947). Luckily, being a comedy, the end results of Cop Image are more humorous than tragic.

Tragedy seems to be reserved for the two openly gay characters in the film who, as they attempt to make off with stolen funds to begin a new life in the U.S., are gunned down by vengeful thieves. In the mid-nineties this sort of occurrence was relatively common in Hong Kong cinema and the world at large. In most cases this speaks to a latent homophobia in the culture. What’s unusual about Cop Image is that, until the end of the film, moments with queer characters are hardly as offensive or insensitive as one would expect.

Twice in Cop Image Wong encounters the same crossdresser. The first encounter is in a bathroom where, upon kicking open the stall door, Wong merely states “We all have a dream” before turning to leave. The second encounter is just as cordial and not at all played for laughs. Obviously a degree of homophobia has factored in the inclusion of this side character; perhaps as an indicator of the sort of the “seedy” world of cops and crooks. The incredible thing is that these moments are not played for laughs. The crossdresser may not exist in Cop Image as anything more than an archetype but the character is still allowed to keep their dignity and humanity.

Cop Image, even with these flaws, is a must-see comedy for anyone who grew up watching Chow Yun-fat shoot his way through Hong Kong or thrilled to Jackie Chan’s stunts. Cop Image may make fun of these cop movies but it does so with genuine affection. It’s an excellent pastiche and a real showcase for Anthony Wong’s comedic talents. I absolutely loved this film.