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.
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