It's another unattractive Hong Kong film where I'm being expected to give a damn about Triad gangsters. It's sort of okay if viewed in the abstract, but I didn't care.
For the avoidance of doubt, this isn't the 1989 John Woo classic with Chow Yun Fat. That's The Killer. This is just another gangster flick in which our heroes go around beating people up, having repellent quickies in toilets and killing people with machetes... but despite this you've got to love them, because they're the good guys. Aren't they? (Hint: no.) Let me go through the reasons why anyone should give a leprous monkey's fart about a single moment in this film.
REASONS TO CARE
(a) Simon Lui is a good actor with an interesting face and he makes it clear that his character has a soul. He's world-weary and loyal to his friends. He cheats on his girlfriend, YoYo Mung, but their relationship is complicated and he does care about her. I didn't like the character Lui was playing, but I liked Lui.
(b) YoYo Mung is great. She's beautiful, intelligent and doesn't like the way all her men make a living cutting people to bits. (One could ask why she hangs around with them in that case, but you'd better not because this is the only decent bit of the film and if you can't make yourself enjoy it, you might as well watch paint dry for an hour and a half instead.) Everything to do with Mung and her subplot is excellent, especially the direction the story takes in the final reel.
(c) That final reel is theoretically very strong. It's all about loyalty, sincerity, honour among killers and a man who may or may not be planning to die. It's almost Shakespearian. It surprised me. We have four killers who'll do anything for each other, but then the world hits them, hard.
(d) Even if you don't care about the protagonists, you might at least be able to take pleasure from seeing the downfall of their enemies. There's a dyed-blonde gangster (i.e. knob squared) whose reaction to being cheated on by his girlfriend is to have her gang-raped by his subordinates. That's the movie's most evil scene, unsurprisingly. The gang-rape happens and it's as ugly as it sounds, although fortunately they avoid on-screen nudity. Other people show up, although too late for the girl herself, and the gangster testosterone gets personal and humiliating. This is where we discover that although Lui likes machetes, he's not afraid of pulling a gun when the need arises. (He's also not afraid of inserting it somewhere.)
(e) There's no annoying Hong Kong comedy. The tone is serious and played straight.
In other words, theoretically this is a strong movie. It's not just bubblegum. It's building a tragedy around characters who have both deep flaws and virtues. They contain both good and evil, if you like. Even though it doesn't work for me personally, I can still admire this side of the story.
REASONS NOT TO CARE
(f) they're the wrong kind of unlikeable.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that everything has to be Disney songs and fluffy bunnies. My problem is that these guys are both bad people and uninteresting. They kill people. Yes, and? They have unattractive, furtive sex that lasts about twenty seconds and makes you wonder why their partners even bothered. They don't appear to want anything or have any dramatic motivation. They just do gangster stuff for ninety minutes in a film whose dramatic structure could be best described as spiralling down a plughole. It's possible that we're supposed to be seeing Lui as the Killer With A Conscience Who Wants To Get Out Before It's Too Late... but if so, then he's got a funny way of showing it. Does he ever try to quit? No. In any way whatsoever? No. Does he regret his life? I don't know if I'd even say that. (Or maybe it's Jordan Chan who's that character... well, I can't say I even noticed him much.)
In other words, this is a story about dull, oddly passive but repellent protagonists, versus other people who are basically the same but worse. The dyed-blonde is a psycho and a dick, but even that doesn't liven things up as much as you'd think. He just goes around doing stereotyped gangster stuff, throwing his weight around and being a twat. If he'd survived to the closing credits, I might have dropped dead in shock.
There's also nothing you'd call action, but I didn't mind that.
If you liked To Where He Belongs
, you'll like this film. Both are Hong Kong Triad flicks from the year 2000 in which the filmmakers seem to think they can make uninteresting gangster losers look deep and tragic. Both have third-string loser gangsters who get beaten up while they're trying to extort protection money. Both have a particularly big cock of a gangster with dyed blonde hair. Both have a love triangle involving a beautiful woman (YoYo Mung and Gigi Lai) and two gangsters who are close friends, which will be resolved in a way that's fundamental to the tragedy of the story and will shed light on the relationship between the two men. However in fairness this film is clearly better than To Where He Belongs
, because YoYo Mung is lovely and gets some interesting material to work with, while I hated Gigi Lai as much as everyone else in her movie.
I'm starting to wonder if Hong Kong cinema might, for me, have a likeability issue. I seem to be hitting quite a lot of Hong Kong movies in which I'm saying I didn't like and/or care about the main characters. For the moment I'll put it down as a personal thing.
There's a possible theme of dependent women, though. Wives, girlfriends, the mothers of your children... that kind of thing. The girlfriends are the important characters here for me, albeit largely by default, while for some reason I found myself struck by the shot where a woman pushes a pram in front of a car.
Did I like it? No, but it's better than To Where He Belongs
. I'm not sure I even believe in it, since most of the bad things that happen to our protagonists strike me as the inevitable results of doing all your gangland hits with machetes in a world that also contains guns. Things fall apart quickly and decisively enough to make me wonder why this didn't happen years ago. "What if your target had a gun?" Yup, that too. The drugs, the girls, the violence... wow, you'd never think organised crime could be so dull. However the film has strengths too.
"Since you talked about buddies, I will always support you."