Once Upon a Time in Triad
This film takes on the essence of a triad tall
tale as it progresses; a story to be orally passed down from triad generation
to triad generation – and always taking on a different hue, an even larger
than life slant. Triad society is presented through the prism of a black
comedy and though it often comes across as brutal, it is also incredibly
absurd and nearly surreal. The filmmakers borrow the nasty triad character
Kwan (Francis Ng) from the Young and Dangerous series and just creatively
riff off of it. Though related to Y&D, this is a very distant cousin.
This film is all funky jittery improvisational jazz to the Y&D’s lounge
music. In this triad world there are no pretty boys with long tresses,
no loyalty, no friendships, no little chipper girlfriends on the side.
This world is nasty and brutal and deadly and no one is to be trusted.
Everything about this film has movement in it
– the music, the camera work and the actors just keep driving the film
forward. Ng with one of his first great roles creates one of the unique
characters in HK film. He is incredible as he creates a multi dimensional
character that has no redeeming qualities and yet you can’t help but be
fascinated by him – he is like watching a cobra. He compares to no other
triad bad guy on the screen. Full of quirks and tics and bravado, Ng just
dominates the screen for 90-minutes. There is hardly a moment in which
he is off camera.
In the opening few minutes his odiousness is
well established as he tries to rape a girl – “I won’t rape you if you
have sex with me” – then sells her into a brothel in the Middle East and
finally kills someone in cold blood with a bottle. All without raising
a sweat. He later gets shot and taken to a hospital where he even tries
to feel up the nurse Pauline Chan while being operated on.
As he is lying there thinking he is dying, he
decides to tell his story. Or stories. He begins one segment with “No one
is born nasty” and tries to convince God and the audience that he is really
not such a bad sort. He was honorable and courageous – but betrayals from
his boss (Michael Chan), his friends and his girl (Loletta Lee) forced
him to become the man he is today. When he floats from Japan to HK one
begins to suspect this is all a whitewash and then he jumps into version
It’s all done very tongue in cheek at times and
there are some wonderfully absurd moments. Such as killing his friend because
he thinks his friend is about to do him in – only to find out it is a surprise
birthday party – and then trying to dance his dead friend out the door
before anyone notices.
This is easily one of the more intriguing takes
on triad life – too absurd to take very seriously – and yet somehow I suspect
there is a strong dose of reality within this tall tale.
My rating for this film: 8.0