Mongkok Story

In one sense this is a film about a young man discovering himself, but played as it is within the boundaries of the “Goo Wak Jai” (young triads) genre, it takes on very different hues than your typical coming of age film. This is not about proms or losing one’s virginity – but instead about revenge, loyalty and of course facing death. But throw on top of this, the fact that Wilson Yip directs it and you have a film that goes into interesting territory with moments of amusing deadpan humor and moments of unexpected poignancy. Yip enjoys poking slyly subversive holes through well-tested genres (i.e. Bio-Zombie and Bullets Over Summer) and he does the same here in adroit fashion. The film hovers lightly between very tongue in cheek humor and some conventional triad story telling  - and one keeps waiting for these two disparate elements to crash into one another and burn, but they manage not to.
Two totally enjoyable and professional performances – though in primarily supporting roles – are vital in keeping the film afloat. Roy Cheung wisely chooses to underplay his role and simply allows his strong presence to speak for itself – while Anthony Wong throws it all out there in a wonderfully evil but extremely funny performance. Could any actor but Wong keep a straight face as he forces a man to commit fellatio on him as a punishment and then later turn to his men and tell them very matter of factly “I am addicted now, can any of you help?” Both actors in very different styles manage to create original characters within the structure of a triad film.
Edmund Leung
Edmund Leung is a clean cut busboy working in a small greasy spoon coffee shop where the cockroaches are larger than the entrees – and it is a place where a group of young triad gang members hang out daily reading comic books and talking the talk. Like Yip’s heroes in Bio-Zombie, they aggressively sell pirated VCDs from a small box sized store in Mongkok. Their boss is Roy – and an imagined opening scene paints him with pulp fiction driven guitar as a heroically mythical fighter in the triad world. Leung is drawn towards this world of big talk – but it is really events outside of his choosing that force him into joining this gang. In fact, most of the events that propel the film are from happenstance more than of any one’s choosing. Soon this happenstance leads Roy’s gang into a conflict with the gang of Anthony Wong.
Wong is having trouble deciding whether he wants to be a triad leader or an action film star. He has produced a film in which he is the lead actor that is a rip off of El Mariachi – guitar case and all. At the premier – Roy’s boys boo the film and this is the first in a slow chain of events that will eventually escalate from words to killing. Later at a hostess bar, one of Roy’s gang tells a girl that Wong has a venereal disease – which leads to a hilarious scene of one girl after another making outlandish excuses not to go out with Wong – from “I have to wash my mom’s kidneys” to “My piles hurt” to “I am a man”! Roy tries to negotiate an end to the escalation – but Anthony is basically crazy – and there is no doubt that peace isn’t going to be the final result. The big bosses (Michael Chan being Roy’s) also try to parlay peace but times have passed them by.
Leung, Lok Daat Wa and Roy Cheung
This was an enjoyable addition to the triad film catalogue – Wilson Yip is clearly having some fun  - but even so it follows the genre formula closely enough to create a fairly tense and suspenseful film and has the requisite “hacking” scenes. The main weakness of the film is the lack of particularly interesting actors playing the roles of Roy’s gang – but Roy and Anthony nicely fill the space around the younger actors. The soundtrack – much of it acoustic or Spanish guitar driven – is simply terrific and adds tremendously to the varying moods of the film.
 

My rating for this film: 7.0