A cursory glance at Andy Lau’s IMDB profile will show 173 credits. So the odds that every movie he starred in would be good are fairly slim given the difficult alchemy that is film making. However, when you consider the director is Ann Hui then it should be at least watchable right????
Buy This Title
Ben (Andy Lau) is a Hong Kong student in Tokyo, although less interested in study and more about making money. His friend Ming is trying to integrate himself into the Yakuza even if it means marrying into the organisation. Another student Tit-lan (Cherrie Chung) finds herself involved with the Yakuza after leaving her sponsor, who also has her passport. Ben and Tit-Lan are thrown together as their stories merge and find themselves in a struggle to survive and escape back home.
That synopsis makes the movie sound like a potentially good chase thriller and with Ann Hui at the helm you would have thought that. Only you’d be very mistaken!
To start with, the plot doesn’t kick in for 50 minutes. Now Hong Kong cinema doesn’t usually flow in the tradition we are accustomed to in the west but even here it is just so slow to get going. Our problem from the outset is that the characters are just not likeable. Ming openly admits to a marriage of convenience to get into the Yakuza hierarchy. Ben is possibly the worst student you will meet and acts like a man-child throughout. As for Tit-lan, after leaving her sponsor who was mistreating her, she jumps into a relationship with a Yakuza and then after tragedy ensues, proceeds to involve Ben. In what was her final performance, Cherrie Chung is surprisingly annoying and again completely unlikable.
So we have difficulty in engaging with the leads. But surely the plot and action will redeem it. Again sadly no. When the plot does kick in there is no sense of narrative thread. Things just happen and one character’s demise is just done so matter of factly, that you are taken by surprise. The action when we go into heroic bloodshed mode is over straight away. The bike riding Yakuza swordsmen were done more effectively in Ridley Scott’s “Black Rain”. When Hollywood of that era was doing a better job action-wise, then we seriously have a problem.
The direction feels listless which is so strange given the quality of work of the director. I had actually watched their “The Story of Wu Viet” the day before and the contrast was incredible. Whether Ann Hui was not in tune with the production or not it doesn’t feel an Ann Hui film.
As we get more of golden era Hong Kong movies re-released, we are having the opportunity to rediscover movies that are ripe for rediscovery. Sadly this is one that should perhaps have remained lost.