Long Arm of the Law: Saga II

Reviewed by YTSL

As its English title proclaims, this gritty offering from the director-scriptwriter team of Michael Mak and Phillip Chan has links to an earlier work of theirs which Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins described as a “seminal film [that] foreshadowed the violent realism of later efforts by Ringo Lam, John Woo, and Kirk Wong” (In ““Sex and Zen” & “A Bullet in the Head””, 1996:202).  Apart from these two productions both focusing on a group of Mainland Chinese men who had illegally entered Hong Kong and ended up getting heavily involved in violent criminal activities in the then British Crown Colony, the 1987 piece also does begin with the repeat screening of certain key scenes from “Long Arm of the Law I” (that two senior Royal Hong Kong Police Force officers are seen viewing on a TV).  And while -- rather understandably -- none of that influential preceding effort’s anti-heroes make appearances in the second entry in the series (that ended up comprising four movies altogether), one of the 1984 hit crime drama’s principal cast members does turn up in a lesser as well as different role in this later Golden Harvest presentation.

Like with other official follow up efforts, LONG ARM OF THE LAW: SAGA II is less able than its predecessor in the series to feel like a majorly trail-blazing work.  This is not to say that that which also was not as unpredictable lacks any memorable moments.  Indeed, this generally grim feeling movie does possess a particular graphic (torture) scene that looks to have become so (in)famous as to rate a mention plus virtual re-staging some eleven years later in “Young and Dangerous: The Prequel”.  However, I couldn’t help but notice that, as with one of the first “Long Arm of the Law”’s unforgettable sequences, the scene in question features the use of the presence of rats as well as humans who could be said to act more like animals than many people will be hoping that they never ever get reduced to being.
Elvis Tsui and Yuen Yat Chor
Alternatively, this (re)viewer does feel that the personnel responsible for LONG ARM OF THE LAW: SAGA II do deserve some praise for looking to have made a serious attempt to do much more than complacently reprise what had brought them so much success three years previously.  Hence it being so that, rather than have its protagonists be Mainlanders intent on making illegal gains across the border, the pretty relentlessly downbeat work’s main Mainland Chinese characters turn out to be a trio of illegal immigrants who agree early on in the film to work -- under the supervision of a “Hongkie” veteran undercover cop (nicknamed “Biggy” and well portrayed by Alex Man) -- as undercover operatives cum informers for two years in return for being allowed to permanently settle in the Fragrant Harbor.  Similarly, instead of spending some time on both sides of the much traversed boundary, this post “Anglo-Chinese Agreement on Hong Kong” movie -- that appears intent on painting a portrait of its home territory that is much more hellish than paradisiacal -- is set entirely in the area to the south of that dividing line.
Pauline Wong and Ben Lam
Early on in LONG ARM OF THE LAW: SAGA II, what looks like very detailed background information about the Mainland Chinese characters played by Elvis Tsui, Ben Lam and Yuen Yat Chor appears on screen.  Unfortunately, on account of it being in the form of Chinese script that does not get translated into English, many of us will not be party to it; with the result being that at least one of the movie’s main trio -- i.e., the short individual named Hok Kwan (and essayed by Yuen Yat Chor) who I, probably not coincidentally, consider to be the least sympathetic of that troika -- largely remains a cipher outside of what can be gleaned from observing him going about his high risk assigned activities plus by way of his interactions with a club hostess he falls for (portrayed by the versatile Pauline Wong).
Alex Man, Elvis and Kirk Wong
Nonetheless, it is true enough that these three individuals do manage to come across as having very distinct personalities from one another (as well as the man who was assigned to be the 13 year police veteran assigned to be their supervisor but ended up being closer to a good friend than the sort of callous superior who promised to be the death of all of them).  To some extent, this is due to some interesting plus salient biographical details getting revealed over the course of LONG ARM OF THE LAW: SAGA II regarding Elvis Tsui’s Li Ho Tung character (e.g., this authoritative figure having been a police officer back on the other side of the border, and his having been taught -- by the father he loves dearly -- to be a good maker of a certain kind of dumpling that’s native to his province) and Ben Lam’s King San character (including the former soldier cum radio operator’s getting reacquainted with a Vietnam campaign comrade in Hong Kong who he ends up getting charged to betray).  Another positive contributing factor probably also is that, like David Lam Wai had done in the first LAOTL effort, Messrs. Tsui and Lam turned in sterling performances that made the parts they played feel much more fleshed out and affecting than they might have been if they had been essayed by less capable actors.

My rating for this film: 7.5