The Roar of Vietnamese

Reviewed by YTSL

It can make for a somewhat strange and ironic experience to watch this 1991 film some years after the Handover of Hong Kong (back) to Mainland China.  This is due in some part from the grim movie's most sympathetic characters being ones who had fled to the former British Crown Colony from a communist country.  This is especially so when we are shown how desperate they were to leave their homeland and what they are willing to do to avoid being sent back there.  Something else to be considered is its being so that although the unfortunate individuals in focus are Vietnamese in terms of nationality, they are Cantonese-speaking ethnic Chinese (like Tsui Hark as well as the characters essayed by Tony Leung Ka Fai and Dean Shek in the auteur's "A Better Tomorrow III").

Lau Ching-wan and Kara Hui Ying Hung
THE ROAR OF VIETNAMESE -- an offering which would have been better entitled "Roar of the Vietnamese" -- starts off with the on-screen display of black and white documentary or news type still pictures of representatives of what have come to be known to the world as "boat people".  These are then followed by a Hong Kong TV news reporter's painting a not particularly complimentary portrait of these refugees.  All in all, for much of the first half of the film, the audience is provided with less than complimentary views of particular Vietnamese personalities (all of them with the kind of records that caused them to be pre-selected -- by a corrupt cop played by Lai Hon Chi -- to be willing to commit crimes in Hong Kong in return for being sprung out of the refugee center and given hope of their getting to emigrate to the U.S.).
Waise Lee and Sibelle Hu
Just as it seems as though they have been established as being downright disgusting, if not irredeemably inhuman(e), by way of their being shown engaging in the kind of acts that are considered anti-social (e.g., open masturbation) as well as outright criminal (e.g., the cold-blooded murder of a child), the makers of THE ROAR OF VIETNAMESE radically change tack.   More specifically:  The recruits to the "Viet Gang" who carry out "missions" -- that range from setting fire to a recreation center into which people have been locked to directly attacking and killing other folks -- consequently are shown to be truly at the mercy of the afore-mentioned Officer Mak, his lieutenant (Waise Lee plays the Hong Kong-born Vietnamese turncoat named Tian San) and a woman we first see being questioned by the police as to the whole affair (Sibelle Hu's Wai Yuen is yet another Vietnamese refugee) as well as people who do care for the welfare of their fellows, even if not their unfortunate victims.
Kara, Cheung Kwok-Leung, Lau and Kwan Lai Kit
To a surprising extent (in large part, I suspect, due to the strength of the cast rather than the script), the main group focused upon in THE ROAR OF VIETNAMESE do get individualized, and humanized.  Those who really stand out are:  A mother (portrayed by Kara Hui Ying Hung, an actress who really deserves to be in higher budget and quality productions than this one) and the silent daughter she obviously loves very much; a quiet ex-cop (played by Kwan Lai Kit); and someone wrongly arrested by his now "team-member" and still chaffing at having spent three years in jail as a result as well as his current circumstance (Lau Ching Wan shines here and is the heart of this film).  The others in the gang are:  A young woman and the man who took a bullet in the neck that was meant for her and subsequently has become mute (played by Chan Pui-San and Cheung Kwok-Leung); a dissident intellectual type who spends his free time writing never mailed wishful letters to his mother; a fellow who spends much of his time in between "missions" sleeping to dream; and a virgin man-boy consigned to be the most caricaturish character of this lot.
If only there hadn't been a compulsion to supplement the movie's dramatic portions with a slew of action sequences that actually don't look all that greatly realistic.  My feeling too is that the addition of triad intrigue dilutes the emotional political message and components of THE ROAR OF VIETNAMESE.  This is a great pity because what could have been a really interesting serious film ended up feeling cheapened as well as made mundane by those of its sections that could have existed in just about any low budget Hong Kong movie (as opposed to one with the unusual group of characters and starting point that this film had).

My rating for the film:  5.5