Home > Film > Overheard or Sit yan fung wan (2009)

Overheard or Sit yan fung wan (2009)

It’s always interesting when you start off a film with images of rats finding a living for themselves amidst the rubbish thrown out by unthinking humans. Even in the lowest levels of society, there’s still a possibility of a life with rich pickings. Having fixed the image in our minds, we switch to three officers planting surveillance equipment in the offices of Feng Hua International. Perhaps they too will act like bottom feeders should rich scraps come their way. Such are the metaphors that flash our way in the first minutes of Overheard or Sit yan fung wan (2009) a police procedural out of Hong Kong dealing with a Commercial Crime Bureau investigation into suspected insider trading. This is Alan Mak and Felix Chong continuing their team effort to write and direct after their success with the Infernal Affairs Trilogy and before The Lost Bladesman or Guan Yun Chang.


The identity of the “mastermind” is unknown to the Bureau at the outset, but later proves to be Will Ma (Michael Wong) who has “integrity” as his firm’s slogan. He’s a high-profile figurehead for a major charity and very respectable. He’s also laundering money for drug lords. No-one has ever been able to pin anything criminal on him. Because Kelvin Lee Kwong (Alex Fong) believes the best chance of collecting evidence against the lower-level conspirators is at night, the best three surveillance operatives are scheduled for the night shift. Yet each of the three has “issues”.

Lau Cheng Wan has eyes and ears everywhere


Inspector Johnny Leung (Lau Cheng Wan) leads the team of three and is best friends with Kelvin, his immediate boss. Unfortunately, he’s sleeping with Kelvin’s wife, Mandy Yam (Zhang Jingchu). They are unofficially separated. Kelvin had an affair, but hopes to patch up the marriage. This gets complicated when Kelvin asks Johnny to install surveillance equipment in the ex-matrimonial home to identify the suspected new lover. The other two members of the team are Gene Yeung (Louis Koo) and Max Lam (Daniel Wu). Gene’s son has cancer and he needs money to pay for life-saving treatment. Max is marrying into a rich family and his future father-in-law has the Police Commissioner as a golf buddy. Max doesn’t feel he fits in, particularly since his future father-in-law wants him to quit work as a police officer and work for him at a higher salary. Having his own money would make him feel more brave.

Lau Cheng Wan, Daniel Wu and Louis Koo test the extent of their mutual loyalty


When Gene picks up an inside tip on an expected rise in share price, he talks Max into deleting the record so they can cash in. Johnny works out what they plan but, when they plead with him, he steps back. Unfortunately, many in the office overhear the buy-order and they join in. This looks suspicious to the stock exchange regulator who suspends dealing in the shares. This leaves the actual insider dealers with a problem. They don’t know what went wrong with their own plan to inflate the price. They believe one of their number is welching on the deal and so decide to kill him. Our police officers are, of course, listening in. They intervene to prevent the murder. They are, after all, police officers. Then the exchange regulators take all the surveillance files, suspecting market manipulation by the Commercial Crime Bureau itself.


However, you look at it, this has boiled up into a nicely balanced situation. As a result of their purchases, Gene and Max have enough money to leave the country. Should they run, or should they stay and try to survive? The “bad guys” are also deeply suspicious. They need to clean house.

Zhang Jingchu and Lau Cheng Wan proving there's always a price to pay


At its heart, this is a story about personal and professional loyalty tested by greed. The three selected for the night watch have been through thick and thin together. Even though Johnny knows he should stop them from breaking their trust as police officers, he recognises their need for money. He thinks the situation is containable and looks the other way. Johnny is also conflicted in his relationship with Kelvin. Betrayal of his friend is eating away at him and he’s apprehensive at what Kelvin will do when he discovers the relationship with Mandy. When it all comes unglued, everyone’s relationships are under strain. Louis Koo and Daniel Wu do enough in their roles to engage our sympathies. Even though they are corrupt, their weakness in the face of such temptation is understandable. Who among us is so confident we would not also try to profit? However, the central role proves to be Johnny. Lau Cheng Wan does well in his role to keep everything in balance. He’s more honest and a better police officer than many of those around him. This does not mean he’s above breaking the law. In a good cause, he upholds his values as an officer no matter what it takes.


I’m less than convinced by the ending. It seems a feeble attempt to abandon the more honest approach in depicting the human failings of individuals and substitute a broader-based institutional corruption. I can understand that film-makers may be uncomfortable with the idea of allowing villains to escape punishment, but this ending does no favours to the Hong Kong police. There are far better ways of seeing justice done. That said, this is one of the better police procedurals to come out of Hong King in recent years and it’s worth your while to track down and watch Overheard or Sit yan fung wan.


For a review of the sequel, see Overheard 2 or Sit yan fung wan 2.


Other films featuring Lau Ching Wan:
The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan
The Great Magician
Life Without Principle
Mad Detective or San taam (2007)
Overheard 2


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