DETECTIVE CHINATOWN 2: Welcome To New York
Chen Sicheng's Detective Chinatown 2 is a manic pop-fuelled explosion of fast-paced crime-solving, fringe supernatural developments and a brash indulgence in outdated stereotypes.
The stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have always been a popular source for film and TV adaptations, whether it be taking the old cases and reinventing them for a modern audience (BBC’s Sherlock series), using post-modern techniques to spice up the historic material (Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes franchise) or even taking the stories and applying them to completely new characters (Zero Effect, an incredibly underrated Ben Stiller vehicle).
The formula is simple: the brilliant but socially inept detective is given a case too complicated for the cops, teaming up with his trusty sidekick to save the day. It’s understandable why it’s been a such a dependable source for a countless amount of diverse variations. It’s a basic story structure that can travel across any genre and language boundary. Again, we see the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories arise in Detective Chinatown 2, a manic pop-fuelled explosion of fast-paced crime-solving, fringe supernatural developments and a brash indulgence in outdated stereotypes.
Forget it Jake, This Is Detective Chinatown 2
After the unexpected success of the first Detective Chinatown, the titular team are back, comprised of Qin Feng (Liu Haoran), the youthful detective genius and his loud-mouthed distant uncle Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang). After Ren lures Feng to New York under the guise of attending his wedding, he reveals that he’s actually brought him there to assist the dying mafia kingpin Uncle Qi, who is offering any detective five million dollars to find the person who killed his son, before he himself dies from cancer. This hefty amount of money has drawn all of the top detectives from around the world, all who currently compete with each other on CrimeMaster, an app that’s essentially Uber for unsolved crime cases.
With Feng maintaining the position of the 2nd best detective in the world, thanks to his success on the app, he is obliged by the local police force into showcasing his deduction abilities to the other eclectic bunch of international investigators, which include a muscly American ex-marine, a blue-haired computer hacker and a 12-year-old girl who has a Sherlock Holmes look-a-like as her sidekick (which really reinforces the Holmes influence). The heightened reality presented here, especially with the detective hierarchy system, feels very reminiscent of Seijun Suzuki’s work, especially Branded to Kill, which had the legendary Joe Shishido trying to elevate his position as the third best hitman in the world.
This leads the socially inept Feng forced to reign in his bombastic uncle as they hit all of the regular New York landmarks, with Times Square and the New York Public Library getting their moment in the spotlight (I’m honestly shocked that they didn’t squeeze in a brief interlude at the Statue of Liberty). The primary case is a surprisingly gory one (compared to the film’s general comedic and colourful tone) Uncle Qi’s son has been found killed, with his heart taken out. What looks like a simple organ harvesting case is complicated by the placement of his body – a Chinese temple within Chinatown, a gesture that alludes to a greater motivation.
Feng quickly discovers that this is similar to a murder from earlier that week, which saw a female body wash up on the Hudson river, with her kidney removed. In order to solve these grisly murders, the two mismatched relatives are required to team up with the primary suspect of the case, an illegal immigrant named Song Yi (Xiao Yang), an amateur sleuth who is being guided by the mysterious ‘Q’, the anonymous #1 detective in the world, the only one stopping Feng from the top spot.
The only other cast member worth noting is the baffling appearance of Michael Pitt, the only major American character. Not only is his appearance distracting (part of me questions if he was really the best American actor they could get) but his performance is awfully stiff, saddled with dialogue that feels poorly translated. His inconsistent inflections on certain statements are the most notable indications of his lacking work here, with real visual evidence of a lack of commitment to his prominent role.
One of the most difficult aspects of reviewing foreign cinema is evaluating traditional customs compared to our own level of cinematic comfort. The rhythms and technical aspects of Bollywood movies are vastly different to that of the American blockbuster, so there will always be a rift between the general reactions of Western audiences against the reviewed film’s country of origin, especially when it comes to comedy. This is important in detailing the humour in Detective Chinatown 2, as it’s a comedy which relies on a heavy amount of racial and sexual stereotypes for jokes, in a crude and incredibly broad fashion that will definitely rub Western audiences the wrong way.
Fat cops eat donuts, cross-dressing is played for laughs and the only black characters are either gun wielding thugs or walking punchlines for our characters to gawk at. These antiquated gags appear often, and feel similar to the American comedies of the 1960’s and 70’s, when movies could rely on lampooning perceived stereotypes for laughs, as opposed to the pop-culture driven dialogue that drives most mainstream comedies today.
A particular segment which features a homosexual biker feels so predictable and cliched, that when its setup occurs, you genuinely think that the scene is going to do something subversive or witty with it, but unfortunately, the ultimate joke ends up being that the masculine head honcho of a biker group is secretly feminine and wants to seductively dance with the reluctant Tang. All of these occasions are easily the weakest moments, archaic callbacks to abandoned modes of generating laughs which veers into offensive territory at repeated intervals.
On the Fringe of Mysticism
Despite these discouraging sections, the film’s insane energy and almost anarchic nature keeps the unfolding murder mystery from ever getting boring. The soundtrack, when not using Taylor Swift’s ‘Welcome To New York’ for the fifth time, generates an enjoyable spirit that plays off the escalating chaos quite well. A chase sequence set on top of a chain of dead-locked cars in a busy New York street is quite inventive, a slickly choreographed episode of unravelling mayhem that is easily the most successful mashup of the film’s wildly shifting tones. This early part is only the start of the intensifying sense of subtle supernatural influence that not only cranks up the bubbling craziness at play here, but also finely weaves itself quite organically into the overall case being explored by our unwilling trio of wannabe detectives.
If Feng is the genius Sherlock, then Tang is his unhinged, money-obsessed Watson, a nice twist on the normally reserved role that the ‘Doctor Watson’ character is given within these adaptations. Tang’s incessant screeching may be grating for some, because even I found his style of comedy overbearing at times. His hysterical ramblings often intrude on important scenes of exposition, but the narrative eventually gives him an important and coherent part within the overall story, which helps making his manic episodes forgivable and essential to helping Feng save the day.
Feng’s methods of deduction are illustrated through a series of CGI-heavy flashy episodes which includes one occasion where literally pulling buildings off Google Maps in order to find the location of a dead body. All of these episodes of Feng’s deduction methods are quite amusing, giving the audience an imaginative look into how he pieces all of the divergent clues together.
Conclusion: Detective Chinatown 2
Chen Sicheng’s Detective Chinatown 2 is a colourful feast of bizarre antics, old school buddy cop discord and creative amateur detective adventures. As a clash of cultures erupts within the Big Apple, this comedic crime story is a test who those who can stomach the constant bombardment of outdated stereotypes, a parade of distasteful caricatures that feel incredibly out of touch with today’s Western standards of social acceptance. Beyond those elements is a pretty satisfactory murder mystery sweetened with a heavy layer of slapstick humour and vibrant aesthetics, that carries along its 2 hour runtime with ease.
For those wanting to get a taste of the booming Chinese film market, or just a new Sherlock Holmes entry, Detective Chinatown 2 is a pretty great example of fun popcorn entertainment, combining action, laughs and a heightened craziness that has an irresistible charm to it.
What are some of your favourite Sherlock Holmes films? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Detective Chinatown 2 was released in the US on February 16, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.