I visit the China Film Insider website ever so often to read about the latest movies and last month had read an article about how currently the most popular movies in China are those with “buddy love” storylines. I’d been noticing lately that a lot of the movies and series I have started to prefer as well have had a strong bromance and could see why they would do well.
Good examples of the bromance element can be found in Legend of the Demon Cat and Detective Chinatown 2. Because both movies are basically buddy cop murder mysteries and had a lot of common elements, despite taking place in different time periods and being different genres (historical drama versus modern comedy), I decided to review them together.
Legend of the Demon Cat stars Huang Xuan (“Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy”) as an imperial scribe, Bai Leitan, who witnesses the mysterious death of the Emperor along with a Japanese monk, Kukai, played by Shota Sometani (Himizu). The mysterious presence of a black cat, along with rumors of a talking cat at the home of the captain of the royal guard, prompts them to investigate further to prevent the threatened demise of the Emperor’s heir. Eventually they realise that there is some sort of curse on the royal family related to the mysterious disappearance of the Emperor’s favorite concubine years earlier, so they search for clues to her fate.
Detective Chinatown 2 has Liu Haoran and Wang Baoqiang reprising their roles as the smart, stuttering, aspiring detective, Qin Feng and his hyper, girl-crazy, money-hungry partner and distant relative, Tang Ren. Tang Ren tricks Qin Feng into coming to New York to help solve the murder of a gangster’s grandson. When Qin Feng finds that he is competing with other detectives he knows from online mystery competitions, he can’t resist proving himself. He and Tang Ren end up trying to dodge their competition and some sinister gang members to save an innocent man and find the real killer.
Both partnerships have that Sherlock and Dr. Watson style of partnership with one partner being the brains of the operation while the other is the heart. Kukai and Qin Feng possess sharp minds and are quick to figure out the hidden clues from what’s in front of them as well as what’s not. They even see through their partner’s deceptions, but rely on them as well to fill in some of the emotional or cultural details that they may be missing. What I found most interesting in both stories is that when they do discover who the culprits are, the brain of the group in both movies is also the one most understanding and even somewhat forgiving.
Bai Leitan, the poet, and Tang Reng, the wannabe gangster, are very different from one another as characters, but they compliment their partners well. Bai carries a bit of a crush on the missing concubine and has been hoping to discover her fate so that he can finish the epic poem he’s been writing about her. He is clever in his own way, but the journey for him is much more emotional as he pines for a woman he will never know.
Tang Reng, on the other hand, is almost completely clueless. Only reacting to what’s in front of him, and without much thought of others, he is impulsive and depends on Qin to save the day, but is also eager to take credit for helping when Qin succeeds, even if it’s due to mishap. He’s the comic relief to be sure, and it is his sometimes dumb luck that often saves the pair, but there are also some moments when he puts down his ego and you can see the love that he has for his partner.
As a pair, Legend’s Kukai and Bai Leitan are much more evenly matched with Kukai sometimes acting as the comic relief as he investigates the case, either by playing dumber than he is to get more info or just gleefully exploring a country new to him while Bai periodically comes up with revelations of his own. On the other hand, Qin Feng and Tang Ren are a typical comedic odd couple that, despite the vast differences in intellect, make for a funny pair to watch, even as they work at cross purposes and cause more roadblocks on their journey, sometimes literally.
Both movies are fun mysteries, though I’ll give Detective Chinatown 2 the edge when it comes to storyline. There are a lot of great comedic moments, including a very memorable chase scene and a scene in a biker bar that reminded me of a regular gag from the 80s Police Academy comedies. But the movie still manages to tell an interesting murder mystery with some great twists and turns that surprise the audience. The lead actors have great chemistry together and it’s easy to see why this movie did so well in theatres. If you are looking for laughs, this is definitely one to see.
Visually Legend of the Demon Cat is the winner with gorgeous set pieces and some amazing visual effects to tell this story of magic and a malevolent talking cat. The story is interesting, though sometimes seems to get a little distracted with some characters getting more screen time than really needed and not as much time spent developing the main leads or other characters who end up playing a more important role in the story. If you are more of a fan of historical dramas or xianxia and want to enjoy a feast for the eyes, then check this movie out.