Expect the Unexpected
by Del Harvey
An uncompromising and absolutely excellent cop thriller.
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Two separate crews of thugs are in the same neighborhood at the same time. One, comprised of a trio of ruthless killers, watches as the other, comprised of a trio of desperate and ordinary laborers, try to pull off a heist which quickly dissolves into a rather pathetic vignette from the Keystone Kops. Things get very ugly as the police begin searching buildings for one of the bungling trio. The leader of the trio of killers calls their fourth member, who is holed up in one of the buildings now crawling with cops.
Seems these guys break into whatever apartment is conveniently located nearby one of their target businesses and which is inhabited only by women, rape the women and live there until they can watch their target business and gather enough info to pull a heist. Then they kill their captives and move on. In this particular apartment are two women who are bound, gagged, and bear marks of several severe beatings. When they hear the cops’ voices through the door they attempt to make themselves heard. The gang member grabs the nearest submachine gun and shoots the women and then shoots the cops through the door. He manages to take out several cops before he is wounded and captured.
As he is being wheeled to the ambulance his three buddies spot him and launch an immediate, surprise assault on the cops, killing and wounding anyone in their way. They steal an unmarked car and, throwing their fourth member into the back, make an impromptu escape. The fourth member is shot again during the escape and doesn’t make it.
A squad leader of the Department O (the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau) is called in to investigate the two events, which at first appear as one. This is tough but fair Ken (Simon Yam), whose first duty is always to the job. His brother is Sam (Lau Chang Wan), who goofs and jokes and plays the fool in contradiction to his brother, but whose abilities as a special investigator are equal to and often better than his brother’s. Together they work closely with their team to determine how these crimes were done and where these criminals will strike again.
Expect the Unexpected may sound like a Hong Kong horror film but it is very much the wedding of a police procedural with a dramatic opera. Produced by Johnnie To and directed by Patrick Yau, this film is a tightly done detective movie which artfully combines stereotypical characters encountering typical situations and how their treatment of these circumstances reveal them to be unusual individuals with a knack for dealing with difficult challenges. The supporting characters include Macy (Ruby Wong) as the female cop of the group, who seems to have a crush on Ken. Sam and Ken find themselves rivals over the affections of lovely eyewitness Mandy (Yoyo Mung), whom they attended college with. Both actors and filmmakers set up each and every cliché carefully—then spend the rest of the movie tearing those conventions apart, but it’s all for our enjoyment.
The entire film builds to a surprise shootout that is one of the most stunning and realistic ever, primarily because it features no superhuman feats of daring-do, but relies mainly upon the simple constructs of ordinary people faced with life-threatening violence enacted by uncompromisingly cruel individuals.
Winner of the 5th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award for Best Screenplay, Expect the Unexpected is a top-notch thriller not to be missed.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly, a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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