The Private Eye Blues


Title: The Private Eye Blues

Director: Eddie Ling-Ching Fong

Year: 1995


The movie starts out with the news broadcast about the impending ceding of control over Hong Kong back to China, setting the viewer immediately into the mindset of imminent post-colonialism. In fact, the first case that Old Cake receives is one about a women’s lover leaving her without a word, which is a nudge in the ribs both to Britain’s uselessness in representing Hong Kong’s interest in the negotiations with China and also to Britain’s identity as Hong Kong’s lover that is deserting it without a word.

The movie essentially follows Old Cake as he tracks down a girl suspected to be the granddaughter of a mainland official. Tangled in a web of lies and deceit, Old Cake finds both himself and his family constantly in danger as multiple factions all fight for power over the girl. In the end, he has to make a choice between the spunky girl who has grown on him, the promise of money, and his family.

The Private Eye Blues makes no attempt to hide its status as an allegory for the nation. For example, in the bidding war scene, where the three different factions reveal themselves, Old Cake must navigate between three languages—Cantonese, Mandarin and English—and the three different factions—the Hong Kongers, the mainlanders and the British. There are numerous instances in which, about to get shot, Old Cake must yell “Wait!” in the three different languages. As a Hong Konger, he is the only one capable of navigating the politically charged atmosphere as he is the only one who has been exposed to all three languages; at the same time, his confusion over who to hand the girl over to is quite palpable, much like Hong Kong’s confusion over which country it owed its allegiance.

The introduction of a child into the film further illuminates the movie-as-allegory dynamic we see. Needing a safe house, Old Cake takes the girl back with him to his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s apartment. When they arrive, the viewers meet Old Cake’s small daughter who, it seems, is forced to be highly independent. Old Cake’s kid is torn between her two parents who are fighting. The child asks the girl “Is it better to have or not have parents?” The girl, who is revealed to be an orphan, states, “It’s nice that you have half” but Old Cake’s child is vehement in her denial. “No! Then they only tear you in half!” Hong Kong, what with its impending return to China faced the same issue of “tearing in half”—what to do about the presence of a hundred years of colonialism? What to do about the presence of thousands of years of culture? How to choose when the city had become something to be fought over and bargained for and yet expected to fend for itself?


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