Best of the Best

Reviewed by YTSL

At this point of writing (in February 2004), Andrew Lau has become one of Hong Kong’s cinema’s major auteurial names.  At the same time, rumblings can be heard -- especially from among those who have viewed “The Park”, the 2003 attempt at horror for which he has sole directorial credit -- that much of the brilliance in the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy comes from the cinematographer cum director’s co-helmer, Alan Mak, as opposed to he who actually has a longer filmography.  Although I am not Andrew Lau’s biggest fan by a long chalk, I am of the opinion that this insinuation may be on the unfair side.  After all, the helmer of such as “The Storm Riders” and the “Young and Dangerous” movies has had other major commercial, if not critically acclaimed, hits to his credit.

Instead, I am more inclined to have the opinion that Mr. Lau is less of a bad director per se and more someone who really does do better when his movies are filled with men and neither fantasy nor supernaturally themed (rather than female characters and special effects promise -- as “The Park” was).  And this even more so after my having recently checked out BEST OF THE BEST, a solid enough S.D.U. film that Andrew Lau decided to shoot in 1996, at a time when: “there was a lot of SDU -- the Special Duty Unit -- in the streets of Hong Kong” (See his interview with Miles Wood in “Cine East: Hong Kong Cinema Through the Looking Glass”, 1998:67); and he (already) was a hot directorial commodity due to the success of the Y&D efforts (many of whose stars and supporting actors -- among them Blacky Ko, Ng Chi Hung, Jerry Lamb and Jason Chu -- also feature in this police movie, incidentally).
To be sure, BEST OF THE BEST is hardly the most original of films.  Not only does the action effort’s Chinese title -- which apparently literally translates as “Flying Tiger Great Ambition 2: Arrogance Higher than Heaven”! -- promote it as a sequel to Gordon Chan’s “The Final Option” (Wood, 1998:66) but it was a case of “deja vu all over again” for this (re)viewer who has seen -- and reviewed some months back for this site -- “Proud and Confident”, a 1989 Hong Kong movie which had Andy Lau and co. as young buck-type police officers bidding to become or prove that they were the Best of the Best, first in training, and then for “real”.  Indeed, if I see another work like this coming complete with a female weapons instructor who “just” happens to also insipidly become the main male character’s love interest (Rosamund Kwan in the earlier offering; the even less believable -- in this kind of role -- Karen Mok in this case), I think I shall scream!
Still, some other viewers might feel more aggrieved with one of BEST OF THE BEST’s two leading men being: Daniel Chan, a big eyed Cantopop singer-actor who some people think bear a disconcerting resemblance to Gigi Leung (particularly when they appeared together in “First Love Unlimited”; and Julian Cheung, a Hong Kong entertainment personality who may well be best known to (Western) Hong Kong movie fans of a certain vintage as Anita Yuen’s real-life boyfriend.  In another part of the site, Brian vouchsafed that the latter “simply doesn't have the stuff to be an action star.”  Although he looks to have been correct, my own sense post viewing this work is that it seems a genuine shame.  This is because, in all honesty, I thought that Julian Cheung not only was -- along with Roy Cheung (who plays Cheung Ying, AKA Eagle, the tough course instructor) and, rather unexpectedly, Herman Yau (as this work’s main villain) -- among the rare individuals who looked the part in this cop drama but also was the person who made it have what emotional depth and resonance that it does.
What’s particular cool to me is that this didn’t seem like it will be so when at the beginning of the Category III rated -- for possessing politically sensitive content? -- film.  Rather, like Daniel Chan’s Inspector Chan Hin Tung character (whose being called “Tung Tung” was initially taken to indicate that he lacked maturity but, IMHO, came to be shown that he’s the kind of person that others feel able to establish familial(-type) bonds with), BEST OF THE BEST can come across at first glance at callow but turns out to unexpected depths of character and the like.  Similarly, and this time as with Julian Cheung’s Chi Lam, AKA “Coolman”, character, this movie is not without feeling and warmth.  In particular, I really liked the bond that developed between Tung Tung and Coolman, the friendship that Tung Tung also had with another “Best of the Best” recruit cum trainee in Michael Tse’s “Hommie” character, and the relationship between the outwardly macho Hommie and the older as well as professional woman he so very unabashedly loved (Amanda Lee was by far the most impressive of this offering’s females -- who also include Annie Wu as Tung Tung’s activist love interest)).
Something else apart BEST OF THE BEST that I found impressive was how its three main sub-plots were able to come together fairly seamlessly; and this especially since their subject matter differ as much as they do.  Granted that they all involve Tung Tung to some extent.  Nevertheless, who would have thought that what could have been a mere S.D.U. training focused movie also would be able to incorporate a look into the Vietnamese “boat people” in Hong Kong issue -- that, while not as intelligent as that found in “To Liv(e)” still is more layered than the one presented in “Roar of the Vietnamese” -- along with the sort of familial melodrama that stems from a father (played by Damian Lau) having loved more than one woman?

My rating for this film: 7.

Reviewed by Brian (circa 1997)

This should have been titled "Bland of the Bland". To a large degree this movie defines what is terrible with many of the films coming out of HK lately. A number of young actors with zero charisma in roles that just are not right for them. Briefly, the plot follows a few policemen who are picked to join an elite police unit as they are supposedly "the best of the best". If these are HK’s best, their police force needs serious rehauling. Somehow I don’t think the best would consist of a bunch of very young pouty policemen (no women) with fluffed up hair who would be much more at ease drinking beer in a college fraternity than working in a police station. None of these actors were believable as cops. And Karen Mok as a weapons instructor? (pre-"So Close" of course). Give me a break; she barely looks strong enough to pick one up. Even with poorly miscast actors it is still possible to generate good action scenes; not here though. Just dreadful.

The only interesting point in the movie was that it centered in part on the Vietnamese in the detention camps in HK and how they were being deprived of their human rights. But they didn’t really make very convincing bad guys. One of the cops was Julian Cheung Chi Lam who for whatever reason is showing up in a lot of movies lately; often portraying a cop and always boring me to death.

My rating for this film: 4.0