This film at times feels like the “evil cousin”
to the “Heroic Bloodshed” genre. One can see similarities at times, but
these traits are buried underneath an extremely unromantic look at the
world of triads and the “brotherhood” within it. This film twists around
the notions of loyalty and heroism - loyalty is a convenience and
no one is ultimately heroic. This gritty and very violent tale of the Taiwanese
and Hong Kong underworld was clearly influenced by both the Hollywood gangster
films of the 30’s and the Godfather trilogy. At times it is a soap opera,
at other times a blood fest.
The story of Tung (don’t know this actors name)
is almost told in chapter style – from his boyhood - to his entry into
the triads – to his conflict with his life long friend. What makes the
film different from many such triad movies is that Tung never really becomes
much more than a foot soldier and a killer – yet his sense of honor, pride
and loyalty (within the framework of his concept of “brotherhood”) make
him seem much more. If there is a hero in this film it is Tung – but his
dreadful treatment of the women in his life leave large holes in his character
as well. The director makes it nearly impossible to really like anyone
in this film – everyone has their share of flaws, weaknesses and dishonourable
moments – but the film has such a realistic if brutal bent to it that it
is impossible not to be a bit fascinated by it all. Though I don’t know
the names of two of the three main protagonists, they are all excellent
and the supporting cast is absolutely top notch.
The first chapter in Tung’s life begins with him
as a young boy witnessing Big Belly kill his parents in front of him. He
runs away and hides. As he wanders the streets only a young girl is kind
to him – and he ends up stealing a shoe shine box and going into business.
This chapter is all shot in black and white seemingly as a homage to the
old gangster films and it looks fabulous. I was hoping the entire film
would be in this style – it fit the feel of the film perfectly – but only
the first section is shot in this manner. One day, the head of a triad
family (Chin Han) is receiving a shine from him when a rival gang comes
gunning for him. Tung helps him survive and in gratitude, he is taken into
the triad. Sihung Lung (the father in Eat Drink Man Woman) plays Han’s
advisor Uncle Tuan. Still a youngster, Tung soon has the opportunity to
revenge Chin Han and it turns out his parents as well – and he guns down
Big Belly in cold blood. He is sent to jail for many years.
When he gets out, he is in his twenties and his
triad family is no more - Chin Han is dead and Uncle Tuan is a bartender
– but Tung teams up with Chin Han’s son (Jack Gao) and they begin to attempt
to rebuild the family business through bloodletting. They first kill Blackie
Ko and others are soon to follow. The killings are extremely bloody and
in your face. After Ko’s murder, Gao takes Tung to a woman to celebrate
both getting out of prison and killing a man on his first day out. Not
just any woman though – he takes him to Amy Yip for some fun and relaxation.
Then I think – wait a second – he has been in jail since he was a kid –
so this guy is starting off with Amy Yip! Some guys have all the luck.
The Yipster only has about 10-15 minutes of screen
time in the film – but she is surprisingly solid in a tragically dramatic
role as a woman very much in need of love – but always picking the wrong
guy. She has a couple very good scenes and a couple revealing ones.
Tung falls in love with the little girl (all grown
up now of course) that helped him as a young boy – but events (often of
his own causing) soon drive him into another chapter of his life. He flees
Taiwan to HK to escape certain death while Gao goes to the south of Taiwan.
In HK Tung joins a Taiwanese gang – headed by Ko Chuen-hsiang and his son
Chang Chung-Yung. They face off against a Mainland gang headed by Wu Ma
and Lo Lieh. Tung becomes the gang enforcer. The fifth and final chapter
has Tung returning to Taiwan to join up with Gao – only to find Gao now
married to his old love. Alan Tang plays the older rival gang leader.
I really enjoyed this film – it is fairly low
budget – very stark – very violent – very visceral - with none of the bullet
ballet or romanticism of a Woo film – but it’s feel of being so basic felt
I was surprised to find out that the film was
directed by the legendary Taiwanese director Chu Yen Ping - known for his
campy classics such as Fantasy Mission Force and Golden Queen Commandos
- but unlike those films, this one is fairly straight forward and focused.
My rating for this film: 7.5