It’s a Hong Kong movie, and I’m reviewing it, but 2002 is not particularly strange as far as Hong Kong movies go. It’s not hard to imagine an American remake, no doubt with a poster of two cool guys looking moody in black leather and the slogan, “One man. One ghost. Two cops.”
Picture the high-gloss sci-fi noir stylings of The Matrix serving a plot reminiscent of the Ghostbusters, and featuring extensive Chinese folklore, ghostlore, and the practice of burning paper replicas of money and other useful items at funerals (so they’ll be available to the deceased in the afterlife). Imagine it starring two extremely pretty boys, a funny sidekick, an adorable little ghost boy, and the obligatory Wise Old Man.
Nicholas Tse and Sam Lee play partners, a human (living) cop and a ghost cop, who battle evil ghosts in Hong Kong. To fight on the spirit plane, they use paper weapons which, when burned, become real weapons. Real ghost weapons, that is. This leads to an exquisitely over-the-top sequence in the climactic battle, in which a series of increasingly deadly paper weapons reaches its peak with an origami grenade launcher.
When Sam Lee is reincarnated, thereby taking him out of the ghost business, not to mention the cop business, Nicholas Tse must settle for a psychic human partner. But, as everyone in the movie keeps saying, a human cop must have a ghost partner. Also, Tse is under a curse which causes everyone close to him to die violently.
Is the new partner doomed the way a new partner of one of Clint Eastwood’s cops would be? Why is a Fire Ghost terrorizing a Hong Kong nightclub? Why are the characters all named things like Tide, Wind, and Paper? Why hasn’t this movie been snapped up for another not-quite-as-good US remake?
The answers to these questions, or at least some of these questions, involve (of course) several lively flying kung fu battles. But the martial arts are not spectacular, and they’re not what the movie is about. 2002 is about feasting one’s eyes on the lusciousness of Nicholas Tse in a flappy black leather trench coat; laughing at gawky goofball Sam Lee; contemplating the nuances of Chinese ghostlore; and savoring those sentimental pauses in the midst of action which Hong Kong films do so well, in this case a subplot involving a little ghost boy who keeps hitting up Nicholas Tse for paper toys.
2002 is the purest example of style without substance that I’ve ever come across. The title is never explained; msotly, the plot makes little sense; and seekers of deep meaning will search in vain. The movie doesn’t just feature coolness, it’s about coolness: slow-motion shoot-outs and rain-slicked streets and looking chic in black leather. For sheer delirious style, 2002 is hard to beat.
Directed by: Wilson Yip
Written by: Vincent Kok, Chi-hin Kwok, Kam-Yuen Szeto, and Wilson Yip
(Hong Kong, 2001)