Breaking News: ”Image matters most. We have to put on a show. An eye for an eye. This is the age of media. The media got us,now we get back at them.”

Year: 2004
Directed by Johnnie To
Produced by
Written by Yip Tin-Shing and Chan Hing-Kar
Cast: Richie Ren, Kelly Chen, Nick Cheung, Lam Suet, Simon Yam, Hui Siu-Hung, Maggie Shiu, Cheung Siu-Fai, You Yong, Ding Haifeng, Li Hai-Tao, and Wong Chi-Wai

After the police are publicly humiliated on TV due to a failed operation, the police rebuild their public image by broadcasting a high stakes police operation.

Johnnie To’s Breaking News explores the precarious relationship that exists between the police and the media. So, public relations is always kind of at a free fall since the media has the power to change people’s perceptions on a whim. Breaking News has the subject material for a high profiled political thriller.

Instead, Johnnie To somehow squeezes this social commentary within a tight action flick. It isn’t tacked on at all since the plot and action revolves around the ongoing dynamic between the police and the media. This dynamic is so intertwined to the proceedings that we get a one to one feedback of how the media and the police react to one another. The tension that this dynamic produces, not only drives the drama but drives the hard hitting action too.

The action here is a fast moving affair in a hyper-realistic manner. Which might feel at odds with the satirical intentions that the relationship between the police and the media explores, yet even under the guise of the satirical overtone doesn’t make the unexaggerated gunplay any less weaker. Engaging shootouts in Breaking News aren’t occasional highlights but rather a regular part of the story.

In the hands of a less skilled director, Breaking News could have fallen apart from weak characters. Johnnie To with the aid of two strong script writers is able to create a fair bit of fleshed out characters. While character development exactly isn’t the order of the day, the characters are fleshed out well enough to avoid being accused of being ”paper thin”.

Inspector Rebecca Fong, the instigator of making this incident a media spectacle could have easily slipped into being an ”irredeemable bitch” for her various boneheaded moves but her heart is always at the right place. Inspector Cheung, though he acts like he belongs in a Ringo Lam film might be a bit overzealous. Even Cheung’s enflamed zeal feels required because all of the other cops are way too overly compliant. Yuan, the leader of the robbers is far from a criminal mastermind. The simple ways he can undercut the police is a keen reminder of just how the police are always in over their heads. The power imbalance is clearly in favor of the police, yet, the threat that Yuan’s smart thinking imposes keeps the police always on their toes. While there is no serious attempt to humanize Yuan which would have been forced anyway , the small moments where Yuan does show his softer side does prove that there is more than to him than meets the eye. The others fill their roles well, regardless if they are gangsters or a small time family.

Breaking News is a tight package that is filled to brim with hard hitting suspense and action back to back. Perhaps, it is too tight of a package because there are elements aren’t as deep as it could be. When it is all set and done, Breaking News is a rare example of an action thriller that looks into how the sensational media shapes peoples’ judgment and the means the police are willing to resort to protect their image. Of course, it is overblown and sensational itself, however, just like all sensational news, there is a brimming truth somewhere in it.

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