In a time when the role of the police is being questioned worldwide, Sleeping Dogs is still the most interesting cop story of the last ten years. Instead of a movie or TV series, it's an action video game where you play a Chinese-American cop who goes undercover amongst the Triads in Hong Kong.
Wei Shen, played by Korean-American actor and martial artist Will Yun-Lee, finds his loyalties increasingly tested as he's often torn between his gangster brothers and the police department he's sworn an oath to. Wei Shen has a secret agenda – he's really on a personal mission of revenge. As he rises in the ranks of the Triad, he gets involved in a full-scale gang war orchestrated by his own handler in the police department, who turns out to corrupt and playing the gangs against each other for his own gain.
After the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota, protests have erupted worldwide condemning the racism and the brutality of the police against the citizens they're pledged to protect. Hollywood now has to question the extent to which its pro-cop shows and movies are complicit in pushing propaganda that many people may no longer find acceptable, given their real-life experience of brutality at the hands of the police. In the U.S. and Europe, police violence is frequently committed on black people and the poor.
What makes the plot of Sleeping Dogs interesting is its deep ambivalence about the line between Law and Order, between the police and the gangs. That everyone in the game world of Hong Kong is Chinese means the story sidesteps questions of racism. Instead, what it grapples with is the question of whether the police are really just a gang with legal powers as opposed to the gangs it tries to manipulate and destroy. By the end, it suggests that the police force and the gangs are interdependent, propping each other up in its way. Wei Shen is an interesting and subversive cop character in that he's not the usual maverick cop that the genre loves so much – he's really more of a vigilante who uses his powers both as a cop and a rising gang leader to pursue his personal mission of revenge. There's a sense that he's not there out of a sense of judicial duty to uphold the law at all, but to pursue his own Chaotic Good agenda. He's really a ticking time bomb of vengeful violence, and that makes him an interesting character.
The Cop Thriller in the Current Climate
Sleeping Dogs is a pastiche and homage to countless Hong Kong cop shows and movies and manages to have its own story that doesn't feel derivative. Hong Kong has a long tradition of cop shows and movies, nearly all of them every bit as pro-cop as the Hollywood products that influence them. Now the Hong Kong Film and Television Industry is facing a reckoning like Hollywood, but not because of the killing of a black man. No, what's sparked off the current anti-police sentiment amongst the populace in Hong Kong has been the police's brutal attempts to crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. As a result, everyone in Hong Kong hates the cops now. The public has lost faith in them. The question for the entertainment industry is whether it's still viable for them to make cop shows and movies.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is currently available on console and PC.