Mean Street Story

Reviewed by YTSL

In an interview with Miles Wood, Andrew Lau stated that:  “Some people say in Hong Kong there are maybe over one million in the Triads, which in the commercial world is a lot of people.  So I think that’s a lot of people to see your film, a lot of box office.  And everyday they have stories...” (In “Cine East:  Hong Kong Cinema Through the Looking Glass”, 1998:62).  While this outlook may go some ways towards helping one understand why it is that there are so many Hong Kong movies in which Triads prominently feature, it doesn’t particularly explain why too many of them are so terribly hackneyed; and this even prior to the Triad layer being harnessed onto the kind of work whose main melodramatic romantic plot looks to be a close cousin of those found in 1970s Taiwanese weepies starring (Brigitte) Lin Ching-Hsia and either Charlie Chin or Chin Han.

At least, things happen quicker in MEAN STREET STORY than the older works.  For instance, within the first 10 minutes or so of that which can appear to be an unsuccessful precursor to the “Young and Dangerous” series of films, Ekin Cheng’s character -- who is named in the English subtitles as Melvin Wong but can be heard being addressed as Wong Miu -- is seen to:  Celebrate his birthday (first at the Mongkok nightclub where his mother is a singer, then -- at the suggestion of his best friend -- across the border in Shenzhen); catch sight of a lovely lass that you just know had instantly claimed his heart; accidentally kill a man while trying to protect her from being harassed by the thug and his friends; and jailed for four years for manslaughter (despite the numerous bribery attempts of his distraught mother and others).  All this in addition to opening shots of Temple Street Market leading to Melvin being shown as a child to have witnessed the violent death of his father (whose last words include “Don’t join the Triad society” and “be righteous” invocations) and the viewer being “treated” to the first of a number of corny Cantopop montages that exist in this highly maudlin production.
Flash forward four years.  Newly released from prison, Melvin returns to Hong Kong -- and his Temple Street home area -- and finds that his remarried mother (who is portrayed by Mimi Chu) has fallen on hard times and is now the maid of a prostitute house while her husband is an alcoholic who no longer owns the fleet of taxis he did a few year years earlier.  On an apparently cheerier note, soon after Melvin reunites with his best friend, he wins a motorbike race and ownership of a bar for the rather pathetic -- and rather infantile -- character alternately referred to as Crab or Ah Haai (played by Eric Kot).  Most importantly (at least for the story), a meeting is successfully arranged between him and his lady love at first sight (The woman variously referred to as Sue, Siu Suen and Vivian comes in the form of sweet-faced Wu Chien-Lien).
Partly on account of Sue wanting to repay the man she considers her “benefactor”, she gets him a job as a salesman in her father’s firm.  Her snobbish as well as rich father is not particularly pleased with the arrangement his professional deejay daughter cooked up though, and frowns even more on what is obviously a mutual attraction that was formed between clean-cut -- but apt to be rebellious -- Sue and the former jailbird.  Consequently, he hatches a nefarious plan to bring Melvin a whole lot of trouble and hopefully set him apart from Sue, and gets the slimy man (portrayed by Jimmy Wong) he wants his daughter to marry to set it into motion.  The problems for Melvin get compounded with the insertion into this mix of Crab now being a Triad and the lowlifers (one of whom is portrayed by Tommy Wong) enlisted by Sue’s father and alternate suitor to aid them in their dirty scheme being his Triad rivals and personal antagonists.  Before too long then, matters do end up getting really desperate and mean...
If only MEAN STREET STORY had focused on the romantic relationship between the nice rich girl and the nice boy from the bad part of town.  Instead, Eric Kot -- who I found really annoying in this too eventful movie -- ended up getting more time on screen (with Ekin Cheng) than the under-utilized Wu Chien-Lien (who also had to share some of her screen time and space with Annabelle Lau, who played here the kind of woman you would actually feel sorry for Eric Kot’s character having ended up with).  Furthermore, while the fights that Andrew Lau shot in his trademark blurry stop-start way were obviously there to spice things up, the end result -- as the 1995 film’s cinematographer-director confessed to Miles Wood -- was that “the people don’t like it.  They say “too fast, I felt dizzy when I see the picture”” (“Cine East”, 1998:62).  All in all, that may be a good description of how I felt about the messy as well as frantic -- and ultimately way too shallow plus insincere feeling -- movie as a whole.

My rating for this film:  4.5

DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer is OK but far from great - not particularly sharp - a bit soft and the interior shots are somewhat dark.


Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

There are 8 Chapters.

The subtitles are in either Chinese, English or Bahasa (Malaysian) - and are easy to read.

There is a trailer for this film but no others.

Star Files - Ekin Cheng.