Our story starts in a rather comedic manner & then turns uglier & uglier. Three characters are shown to be laughable. First, there is the blind detective, whose quest to acquire a fortune is perpetually frustrated. Johnston is not only blind, but a dandy & a glutton. Secondly, there is the young detective who, it turns out, has long admired him – she is sent to buy food for the police, then sent to chase Johnston.
Finally, there is the chief of police. He cannot catch murderers, but can get Johnston to help for free. He often behaves in a slavish manner, but it is worth noting he has won what mankind may think a happy life. He does well in a respectable job & has acquired the love of a beautiful woman, whom he has married. He dresses in the manner of men who want to show that they choose their clothes.
Johnston has paid with his sight for his relentless pursuit of criminals. Either justice or the need to have control have blinded him. Part of the comedy is to see just how blind he is. Part of it is the way he teaches the woman how much suffering & what a curiosity regarding morbid things are required for successful detective work. Johnston hopes medicine will save his eyes. Science cannot catch criminals, though.
The woman admires him & wants to learn from him. She also hires him to find a girl for whose fate she feels responsible. Everyone needs a reason to join the police. Making an issue out of ugly facts is necessary in order to defend humanity. The champions of this cause are however bound to be unhappy. The woman is childless, but supposes her wealth will be her dowry.
Johnston catches criminals no one cares about anymore. He sees what they do not, because urgency is no longer a problem for him. This allows him to think practically. The first murderer hates the wife who traduces him & his weakness in begging her. The second hates the sudden winnings of his coworkers; Johnston fails to see that anger makes lions of cowards. The third is a savage who does not even think to conceal his murders. He went uncaught because detectives do not think clearly about patterns of opportunity. Only Johnston’s self-interested exhortation to care about other people & take their lives seriously speaks for the laws.
The girl he is chasing is the daughter of a woman who murdered because of love, herself such a daughter. All these murders have another thing in common: Cooking. Johnston & his newfound love adopt the daughter, presumably hoping to educate the fourth generation to avoid murder.
Johnnie To’s latest movie, premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2013.