The Story of a Discharged
Though best known to modern Hong Kong film fans
as the inspiration for JohnWoo’s A Better Tomorrow, this 1967 film was
an important film on it’s own merits. At the time of its release the Cantonese
film industry had fallen victim to plummeting attendance and was in danger
of completely disappearing. The Mandarin speaking films being produced
primarily by the Shaw Brothers but also those from companies like MP &
GI had come to completely dominate the film industry during the 1960’s
with their much higher budgeted films. The Cantonese films on the other
hand were produced on a shoestring budget and had come to be known as “weeklies”
– both the amount of time it usually took to make them and the amount of
time they played in theaters. The Mandarin films also had a much larger
distribution network throughout Taiwan and the overseas Chinese communities.
The main attraction that kept Cantonese films
from completely floundering were a group of charismatic young stars such
as Josephine Siao, Connie Chan, Nancy Sit, Woo Fung and Patrick Tse Yin.
Needing to attract an audience certain Cantonese directors also began producing
edgy contemporary films with a social message. Chor Yuen was the leader
of this group of directors with films like The Black Rose and The Joys
and Sorrows of Youth that explored issues of social inequality. Following
on the steps of Chor Yuen were the social realism films of Lung Kong in
the late 60s. In his films he addressed issues such as juvenile delinquents
(Teddy Girls), prostitution (Call Girls), atomic war (Hiroshima 28), the
breakdown of the social fabric (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) and in The
Story of a Discharged Prisoner Lung Kong relates the difficulty that ex-prisoners
face on the outside. The films of Lung Kong and Chor Yuen did not revitalize
Cantonese cinema (that was left to the Hui brothers), but they kept the
flame flickering and their films greatly influenced the Cantonese New Wave
directors of the early 80’s.
Looking back at this film from today’s perspective,
it certainly shows its age and the low production values – but is still
a very enjoyable film to view. The stark black and white photography and
formal method of acting make it look more like a Hollywood film of the
1940s than one of the 60s. The terrific jazzy music score also brings many
of the film noirs from that period to mind. With the use of this score,
location filming, quick editing and fluid camera movement, Lung gives the
film a real rhythm, energy and a pace that continuously pushes the story.
The film is also populated with a group of diverse and interesting – if
somewhat one-dimensional characters.
In the opening sequence Patrick Tse Yin (father
of Nicholas Tse and a huge star at that time) is captured after breaking
into a safe when he returns to help one of his wounded men. He goes to
Stanley Prison for a long stretch and during that time decides that he
will go straight when he gets out. While inside, his brother (Wong Wai)
is told that Tse Yin is a businessman in Singapore – and after being released
Tse Yin stays away from his brother and mother (Mak Kai?) for fear of bringing
shame on them and hurting his brother’s chances of advancing in his job.
Instead Tse Yin looks up his old partner (Sai
Gwa Pau?) and stays with him in a very poor area of Hong Kong. He only
wants to find a job and stay out of trouble, but this doesn’t prove to
be an easy thing to do. He is squeezed from both sides as criminal boss
Sek Kin (in a terrifically campy one-eyed performance) wants his services
back and a fanatic police Inspector (played by Lung Kong) wants him to
become an informer in Sek Kin’s gang. Though one is a crime boss and the
other a cop, they are simply two sides of the same coin and Tse is pushed
into a desperate corner, as his friends are beat up, his employers are
forced to fire him and the cops constantly harass him. Only the supervisor
of a rehabilitation center (Ka Ling - one of Tse Yin's most popular romantic
film partners) and his ex-girlfriend (Monita Lopez?) stand on his side,
but when Sek Kin kidnaps the brother and his fiancé (Chan Chai Chung?),
Tse decides it is time to take up the gun again and finish what needs to
be finished. Though some of the themes of this film are carried into A
Better Tomorrow - particularly the love and sacrifice of the older brother
for his younger brother - this is much more a drama than an action extravaganza.
There are a few action scenes in the film though with Tse Yin showing some
kung fu moves and some gunplay - but they are extremely mild in comparison
to Woo's film.
I am just guessing at some of the names of
the cast members - if anyone knows differently please let me know.
My rating for this film: 7.5