While it has become common for American cinema to remake Asian properties, particularly in the horror and action thriller genres, in fact any foreign language cinema where it is felt that the audience will be put off by subtitles and alien cultures, it is less frequent but not unknown for the reverse to take place, but such was the case with Ringo Lam’s 1989 Hong Kong police drama Wild Search (Ban wo chuang tian ya, 伴我闖天涯).
Never before released in the UK and now presented on Blu-ray by Eureka in a new transfer from the original film elements, it is the story of widower police officer Lau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Chow Yun-fat), known to his colleagues as Meow-Meow, tracking a gang of gun-runners following a bungled bust and a shootout which left the contact between the buyers and sellers dead with her daughter the only witness.
Taken into the care of her aunt Cher (Zodiac Killers‘ Cherie Chung) who is also attempting to wrap up the antique shop which was her sister’s official business, what little information four-year old Ka-Ka is able to convey is of little use, but still she presents a threat to Mister Hung (Raining in the Mountain‘s Paul Chun) who believed all that linked him to the child had been buried and is willing to pay $100,000 for silence.
With a young child witness to a gangland killing, now sheltered in a rural community, while the police officer who protects them becomes closer than is professional with their guardian who is already tied to another man, at least in his eyes, while the stylings and setting of Wild Search could not be more different, a neon Christmas in Hong Kong and a village of traditions, busybodies and gossip, taken down to basics it is unmistakably Peter Weir’s 1985 thriller Witness.
There the resemblance ends; Lau is no John Book, the Hong Kong police with insufficient resources to efficiently run an operation and beset by incompetence, letting suspects walk past them unquestioned, Cher uncooperative despite the obvious danger to her family, the investigation proceeding as much by happenstance as detective work and accompanied by maudlin pop music montages and occasionally interrupted by ballet lessons for Ka-Ka.
One for dedicated aficionados of Asian cinema rather than the general action audience, the new edition of Wild Search also contains a commentary by Frank Djeng of the New York Asian Film Festival and an archive interview with actor Roy Cheung who plays Mister Hung’s hitman of choice, Bullet, known to Ka-Ka as “Mister Muscle.”