Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: The Cop (Sarawat Maa Baa)

  • Directed by MR Chalermchatri Yukol
  • Starring Somchai Khemklad, Note Chernyim, Chalad Na Songkhla, Piyathada Mitteerarote
  • Released in Thai cinemas on July 4, 2013; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Turn in your badge and gun, because The Cop (สารวัตรหมาบ้า, Sarawat Maa Baa) is that kind of movie.

With a feeling of timelessness, director MR Chalerchatri “Adam” Yukol’s feature debut channels the classic Hollywood police procedurals.

His title character, a mad-dog police inspector named Wasan (Somchai Khemklad), recalls such characters as Popeye from The French Connection, Riggs from Lethal Weapon and McNulty from The Wire. Toting a long-barrelled revolver like Dirty Harry, he’s a hard-drinking, hard-driving cop with his own brutal way of doing things. He colors outside the lines of the law, but he believes he has justice on his side.

Most loose-cannon cops like Wasan need a level-headed partner as a tether, so there’s veteran Sergeant Thong (Note Chernyim) – a Danny Glover-like Murtaugh to Somchai’s Riggs.

And because Thong is probably getting too old for this stuff, Wasan gets another partner, young Lieutenant Nalin (Krystal Vee), a policewoman who is out to prove she can run and gun with the boys as well as bring a fresh perspective to crime-fighting.

And there’s the usual jerk of a commander that TV and movie cops are sometimes saddled with. Here, he’s Colonel Praphan (Chalad Na Songkhla), and he’s out to get Wasan if the crooks don’t get Wasan first.

Wasan, a crusading cop in the children and women protection division, is already facing suspension for some recent bit of brutality. He’s passed out drunk at his desk in the police station when he’s roused by his sergeant. Seems a government minister’s daughter has been murdered, and the top brass want Wasan on the case. He takes another slug or two from his flask of Sang Som and he’s good to go.

The girl is found under the expressway in the middle of a mud puddle with a large knife protruding from her chest. The scene makes Thong puke, but only makes Wasan angrier.

The long night over, Wasan turns up at the home most cops like him have (if they are still married that is), with a wife (Piyathada Mitteerarote) who’s angry her husband stays out all night chasing criminals and two young children who miss their dad.

Back at the station, rookie lieutenant Nalin reports for duty and is still saluting her commander when Wasan bursts in and starts a fistfight with him. She soon gets over her shock and introduces her new partners some a newfangled thing called the Internet and Google Earth, which she can use to track down the bad guys.

Dramatic shootouts ensue as Wasan and his team get closer to their culprits as well as a strange figure from Wasan’s past – a disfigured death-row prisoner – who has a damaging secret.

Adam, 27-year-old son of influential director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, has said he aimed to make a gritty, ’80s-style crime thriller. He also wanted to come out with his own style of movie-making, but it’s hard to not recall some of the similar action films from the elder Yukol’s filmography, like The Colonel from the ’70s or the Gunman movies of the '80s and early ’90s.

And one aspect of the production that seems stuck in the ’80s is the performances, which are uniformly wooden and overly formal. Perhaps that’s just a stylistic choice, that being the way things were in Thai films back then. Besides, unlike Lethal Weapon or Die Hard, this isn’t meant to be an action-comedy. So the fine cast takes Adam’s direction and wears like a badge of honor.

Somchai, infamous for his bad-boy ways offscreen, has a role that fits him like a glove. He is well supported by the veteran comedian Note in a solidly dramatic role. Chalad is his usual sneering baddie. Piyathada makes the most of her thankless role while new-face actress Krystal has a few surprises in store.

While the acting comes off a bit flat, the tension-filled action offers visually arresting gunplay and sound effects that pop. The soundtrack, led by rock guitar, is never overbearing and adds to the shadowy, stylish atmosphere that places the The Cop well within the ranks of Thai noir.

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