When an ambulatory TV news unit live broadcasts the embarrassing defeat of a police battalion by five bank robbers in a ballistic showdown, the credibility of the police force drops to a nadir. While on a separate investigation in a run-down building, detective Cheung discovers the hideout of the robbers. Cheung and his men have also entered the building, getting ready to take their foes out any minute. Meanwhile, in order to beat the media at its own game, Inspector Rebecca decides to turn the stakeout into a breaking news show. –IMDb
Following his directorial debut with the 1980 period martial arts fantasy The Enigmatic Case, To’s career came to something of an apex in the late 1980s thanks to such memorable action films as The Big Heat and tender, personal dramas like All About Ah-Long (the latter of which landed star Chow Yun-Fat a Best Actor award at the 1990 Hong Kong Film Awards). After taking the helm for such memorable action films as The Heroic Trio and directing Stephen Chow in such films as Justice, My Foot and Mad Monk in the early ‘90s, To moved into producing with the creation of independent film company Milky Way Films, a company which yielded such popular Hong Kong action efforts as Nai-hoi Yau’s The Longest Nite and Expect the Unexpected. Though To’s production company was indeed a success, his career behind the camera was in need of some rejuvenation, an issue which he readily addressed with the release of his highly praised 1999 crime drama The Mission.
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The commentary on the media is just a little inconsistent, but the bravura filmmaking more than makes up for its minimal thematic hiccups. The opening sequence is, of course, filmmaking of a kind no one else can touch, but the brief, warm-but-funny scene of the robbers and their hostages sitting down for a meal before the climax is no less original and striking.
This picture is slightly more uneven than we're used to from Johnnie To. The social media angle in the film, with webcams and YouTube playing a part in a tense hostage situation, isn't explored with enough depth and has not aged well. Fortunately, the saving grace of "Breaking News" is the peerless action direction, including a bravado opening crane shot that goes on for a solid 7 minutes without cutting - all while cops and robbers are engaged in a massive shootout. And the scene in which two hardened killers take a break to prepare their 'last supper' in the kitchen is classic Johnnie To.
As an overall film, probably closer to 3/5, but I give it a 4/5 because of To just absolutely putting all other action directors to shame with that opening sequence. A very good film overall, but far more interesting for To's technical prowess than the story.