Directed by Eddie Fong
Produced by Teddy Robin
Written by Eddie Fong
Starring Jacky Cheung, Kathy Chow, Mavis Fan, Chin Ho, Chan Fai-Hung, Wong Tin-Lam, Frankie Chin, Baat Leung-Gam, and Lee Hiu-Tung
If you think of film noir the chances, you don’t conjure up images of Hong Kong, this is a setting of a certain forgotten Hong Kong film entitled The Private Eye Blues from 1994. But it isn’t any Hong Kong, but the Hong Kong as British rule draws to a close. Much like colonial Hong Kong the film it is a byproduct of a bygone era. I have to say beforehand, I am not entirely familiar with all of the conventions of the film noir genre, but I think I’ve been exposed to its conventions through enough pop culture to have a general idea of what film noir is supposed to be.
Private Eye Blues isn’t solely a film noir movie, the conventions of film noir are rather only a certain stylistic repertoire. Cynical characters are no stranger to the film noir genre, this classical cynicism of film noir is embodied in its main character who is simply named Private Eye, more than likely a self-conscious choice to give him a generic name or even nameless possibly. Maybe, it’s the film way of saying it is self-aware that it is copying the tropes of film noir. But in spite of such generic sounding name, Private Eye is in no way an undeveloped character. The film is in essence about his existential drama after his life seemingly falls apart. The plot of the film itself is remarkably simple, a down on his luck detective is tasked with finding a mysterious girl who may or not has special powers by beyond forces he can comprehend.
The trademark aesthetic of film noir is black and white, The Private Eye Blues opts for a blue-tinted look that seems to be a way to capture the melancholic mood of its leading character and almost bring a literal meaning of its title. But time hasn’t been so kind to the film, so no one has been able to find a better print of the film so the one on the DVD has this grainy and foggy blueish look to it. This unfortunate fate of the film has masked the real beauty of the film. The cinematography seems to be dedicated to showing the perspective of the weary-eyed detective. The natural chaotic nature of this dark blue-lid Hong Kong represents the inner confusion very well and the dim lighting during certain scenes seems like the fleeting hope he sees in the world. If you are expecting Private Eye to be the typical action hero capable of knocking out goons in short order,you’re going to have to look somewhere else, Private Eyes isn’t blessed with this special capability, Private Eyes is a common man through and through. But rather Private Eyes’ shining moment of heroism doesn’t come from his ability to hurt another person instead it comes from a moment of realization and personal growth. Arguably, the only apt way to end a character arc for a character with an existential dilemma.
The trademark archetype of the film noir genre is the femme fatale, needless to say. The Private Eyes Blues’ take on the femme fatale if you can call it that is as idiosyncratic as the film itself. She like Private Eyes is only known by a generic name which is Kiddy or Girl, perhaps for her, it represents a loss of identity. More than just a mere ”mcguffin”, she is an enigma unto herself, her destiny or more importantly her character arc has an indispensable impact on the main character Private Eye. Kiddy becomes almost a shining beacon of hope in this downbeat drama without her the film would probably be consumed by its own pessimism. Kiddy’s child like nature seems like a rage against the cold hard cynicism around her and the world. In an odd way, she almost feels like a character from different genre thrust upon a genre that is alien to her type of character with her references to her superpowers. But rather than being any type of superhero thriller or even a sci-fi film, The Private Eye Blues is more concerned with making political allegories. The political topic being the uncertain anxieties that the people of Hong Kong faced over Hong Kong’s fate as it was handed back to mainland China. The uncertain future brought by this fate underpins the whole film and thematically very prominent throughout the film. Each side looking for Kiddy is basically a stand in for each faction involved in the handover of Hong Kong. This aspect reaches a climax in a satirical Mexican stand-off. Without delving too deep into the political dimension of the film, the political stuff within the film does lend the film which seems centered around low key events a certain profoundness; and adds to the thematic significance of the film.
Those who might think this film might be a nonstop down-beat romp must not be scared. This film isn’t totally depressing, actually, one of its strength lies in the fact how it uses black comedy while combining the stereotypical Hong Kong slapstick and snarky Hong Kong dialogue as its levity within such a pervading melancholy tone at times. This levity almost gives a satirical overtone which gives the film-noir-esque nature of the film a very ”avant-garde” feel and an outlandishness to the film that gives a fun quirkiness. In short, The Private Eye Blues is a neo-noir of the 90s held together by a foreboding atmosphere but with a zany and hopeful undercurrent!