5. Tiger on the Beat (1988)
This 1988 film is another Hong Kong production starring the charming Chow Yun-Fat, who this time around portrays a lazy, wise-cracking veteran police. Chow partners with a younger, more serious officer, Conan Lee, as they are tasked with solving the murder of a heroin trafficker. Tiger on the Beat borrows one of the most common tropes in the buddy-cop canon, with Chow and Michael progressively bonding and respecting each other after initially being very dismissive of each other.
The movie is soaking with John Woo’s bombastic blueprint, with stylized gun fights and comedic tone mixed with dramatic shifts. Similarly to his own Hard Boiled, this boasts some impressive stunts and clever camerawork, including a chainsaw fight at the end that is unequivocally the spotlight of the film. The chemistry between Lee and Chow doesn’t reach the highs of Chow and Leung in Hard Boiled, but as a whole the movie perfectly embodies the campiness of gun fu movies while paying homage to its biggest inspiration, Lethal Weapon.
4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Arguably one of Shane Black’s sharpest scripts, this tells the story of a small-time thief who stumbles upon an audition for a role in a detective movie. There he meets Gay Perry, a shrewd private eye who suggest he should participate in a real-life investigation to develop his character in the film. What follows is a sepia-filtered mystery noir packed to the chore with murders, twists and double-crosses. Black once again knows how to balance the intense shifts in the story with a healthy dose of comedy relief provided by his witty, foul-mouthed duo.
Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer are at their best together, especially during their endless bantering and quirky comebacks throughout the story, gifting us with a plethora of quotable one-liners. In a sense, this is Shane Black’s own way of pushing back against conventionalism in a genre that he thought to be falling out of grace at the time, going for a shamelessly unapologetic movie that is completely uninterested at catering to general audiences. And what follows is one of the most unabashed and sharp-witted “bromance” in buddy cop history blossoming amid absurdist mayhem.
3. Training Day (2001)
Drenched in that early millennium washed-off color grading, Training Day is a realistic portrayal at the rampant corruption and moral dilemmas that the police force face on a daily basis. Following tradition, the film features a rogue narcotics officer with questionable tactics (Denzel Washington) who takes a young, inexperienced rookie (Ethan Hawke) under his wing.
Denzel’s performance is captivating from start to finish as Alonzo Harris, someone who is not in the least concerned of getting his hands dirty to accomplish his job by any means necessary. This of course baffles Hawke’s naive character, who slowly begins to question his partner’s methods and realizes his faith on him is misplaced. The duo spends most of the time together cruising through the streets of LA in a Chevy Monte Carlo taking odd assignments, until it becomes apparent that Denzel’s has an agenda of his own and plans to steal millions of dollars from a drug dealer. This puts Hawke on a tight spot as he is faced with the choice between letting it slide or confronting him, setting up the stage for a heartbreaking resolution.
2. The French Connection (1971)
This Best Picture-winning thriller tells the story of a pair of two New York City police detectives who attempt to hunt down a notorious French heroin smuggler operating in the East coast. Popeye, portrayed by Gene Hackman, is not afraid to resort to dirty tricks if it means to get the job done. His modus operandi baffles his partner at times, who is not as trigger-happy as his unhinged friend.
The film most iconic sequence involves a lengthy car chase through Brooklyn that is often considered to be one of the best to ever put to film. In this chase, one of the detectives borrows a civilian car to pursuit a hitman on the run, following an elevated train from below through several boroughs. To accomplish the frantic sense of speed of such a frenetic sequence, the director of photography claims that he lowered the frame rate of the camera to 18 frames per second, filming two simultaneous tracking shots of the elevated track and the streets. This sequence ends with Popeye confronting the hitman on the staircases, a now iconic image featured in the film’s main commercial posters.
1. Memories of Murder (2003)
Memories of Murder is a gripping thriller that brought South Korean maverick director Bong Joon-ho to worldwide stardom. Set in an isolated rural province, the film follows the real-life unsolved investigation of a number of perverse murders that desolated the country in the 1980’s. Three detectives are tasked with tracking down the culprit, one of them being the leg-kicking and eccentric Park (portrayed by the ever-captivating Song Kang-ho). Similar to David Fincher’s Zodiac, Bong is fixated on the steep psychological consequences that such a macabre tragedy inflicts not only on the officers at hand but on the entire nation.
The film oozes an atmosphere of dread and despair that is further magnified by the real-life implications for a country still aching for closure. And it is that lack of closure that multiplies the agony and helplessness of the main three cops, who resort to every dirty trick in the bag to get hot in the heels of their elusive killer. As the unrest grows, they form a rivalry of their own implied by their clashing personalities and differing methods of investigating. The film comes to an end in a bleak but memorable fourth-breaking last frame.