H.K. Triad

Tales of triad life have been covered more often in HK films than a bed in a short time hotel, but on occasion they bring something fresh and interesting to the table. This is certainly the case here as this film is sort of American Graffiti meets Goodfellas. This is done with imaginatively visual style and terrific acting performances from Lau Ching-Wan, Francis Ng and Athena Chu. Even Diana Pang Dang does all right ! The film is often lyrical and nostalgic, but is also often punctuated by moments of visceral in your face violence. A sound track that alternates between 50’s pop ballads and sultry jazz underscores all this perfectly.

The film begins in the present day with LCW as an old man. He has been brought into police headquarters to lecture to some newly hired cops about the world of the triads. He had once been a big shot in the triads, but not any longer. So he spins a tale in flashback about himself and his friend Francis Ng. It begins back in the late 1950’s and the time period is captured perfectly through the music, the clothes, the dancing, the hairstyles, the sets and the attitudes. I love the depiction of the neighborhood they inhabit - the little alleyways, the seedy strip clubs, the gambling parlors, the outdoor restaurant that serves dog meat - it all feels just right.

Both he and Francis are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. They go in what might seem opposite directions, but in fact they are the same. LCW joins the triads and Ng the cops. The film then tracks their friendship and alliance until the early seventies.
Athena Chu is better than I have ever seen her as she goes from “girls just wanna have fun” bobby soxer to a bitter and  morally and spiritually empty wife by the end. There is one scene in particular that resonated with me. She is having an affair and her husband breaks in to discover them in bed. As her paramour is mercilessly beaten up, Athena lies on the bed, lights up a cigarette and checks out her makeup in the mirror. When the husband is gone and the guy drags himself off the floor, she says, “if he has left, come back to bed with me”. You have to like a girl that has her priorities straight like that !
Diana Pang is a dealer in a gambling den, but she is also the sister-in-law of one of the big bosses. LCW develops a hankering for her and on their first date he does this great little move that was intriguing. He takes her finger and slides it into his mouth and when it comes out it has a ring around it. Kind of perverse in a romantic way. What follows is kind of romantic in a perverse way.
Diana Pang Dang
The film plays out the twists and turns and ups and downs of these four people. There are some terrific scenes throughout and a mood is created where you really don’t know quite what to expect next. The loyalty of these two friends to each other through the years is good powerful stuff.
Though the film perhaps takes on more territory than it should - and loses some momentum as it progresses - it is still one of the better films I have seen from HK for a while.

My rating for this film: 7.5