Young and Dangerous (1996) — November 5, 2014
The Muppet Babies of Heroic Bloodshed films.
Equivocation, extenuating circumstances, and context are the wisdom of the adult; the young see only absolutes, the letter of the code. These kids know the rules, but they don’t understand their own code.
When Ekin Cheng gets kicked out of the Triad, we find him ten months later, owning and operating a bar. The bar is called “Hot Dog Café” and its sign features a large cartoon dog, standing upright with its arms at the side of its head, looking hungry and scared, like it’s afraid it might be the meal being advertised, and it’ll be forced to eat itself. But kind of excited, because it looks so tasty.
This movie is that dog.
Francis Ng termites every corner of the screen. He’s the only living thing in the picture.
Young and Dangerous 2 (1996) — August 4, 2016
“It seems reasonable, but it seems that you have said nothing.”
The continuing story of Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan, Handsome Triads. This time there’s a long flashback to Chan’s adventures in Taiwan, which took place at the same time as the second half of the first film. He hooks up with an aged Taiwanese legislator/gangster and has an affair with the old man’s slinky girlfriend, Chingmy Yau. After 45 minutes, the film jumps back to the present, where Simon Yam sets up a competition between Cheng and Anthony Wong for control of a new casino in Macau. Surprisingly enough, this leads to a gang war, where Wong, in all his hoarse, coarse, nose-picking, shirt-unbuttoned glory (this is the year of Ebola Syndrome, after all) starts messing with Cheng’s gang. Then the Taiwanese get involved, and all rationality goes out the window. But everyone (except Wong) looks pretty slick.
Only Anthony Wong could make nose-picking an act of aggression.
Young and Dangerous III (1996) — September 6, 2016
For as boring as Ekin Cheng is as the hero, this series is simply packed with great supporting characters and villains. In addition to holdovers Jordan Chan and Anthony Wong, this one adds Karen Mok as the foul-mouthed daughter of the neighborhood priest and Roy Cheung as the latest villain trying to topple Cheng by framing him for murder. Cheung isn’t better than Wong or Francis Ng’s Ugly Kwan from the first film, of course, but that’s setting an incredibly high standard. But his muscle-bound psychosis is welcome in a world of Triads that look like they spend more time at the mall playing video games than engaging in brutal acts of violence. On the other hand, Simon Yam was criminally underused throughout the series, but fortunately for him he’s about to hit it big with Johnnie To.
As far as the plot goes, this is a big step up in terms of plausibility and coherence from the previous entries. But Cheng’s Chan Ho-nam is still the black hole of blandness sucking all the energy out of the movies. That character, as much as anything, is what’s preventing these from becoming anything more than the teenage soap opera version of The Yakuza Papers.
Infernal Affairs II (2003) — June 29, 2017
Everything with Anthony Wong, Carina Lau, and Eric Tsang is excellent. And Francis Ng is pretty good too, though he seems to have time traveled two years into the future to steal Simon Yam’s Election performance. Chapman To and Roy Cheung do their things, and Kara Hui sneaks in a small role as well. But, surprisingly enough, Shawn Yue and Edison Chen are not Tony Leung and Andy Lau.
The plotting isn’t as tight as the first film, skipping ahead in time in montage a bit too much and I’m not really sure what further evidence Yue needs to convict Ng after literally watching him murder a cop, but it’s glossy and sad and brutal. The backstory it does add improves the first film, for the most part, especially Chen’s creepy relationship to Lau and Tseng.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010) — May 13, 2014
The best Batman movie of the last 20 years.
As Fist of Legend (written and directed by Gordon Chan, who wrote and produced this one) built on Fist of Fury by developing, you know, characters, so this sequel builds further by fleshing out and complicating the historical milieu. Beginning with the Chinese experience in World War I, but spending most of the time locating Chen Zhen within the context of the Chinese struggle against Japanese imperialism, both overtly (student and labor protests) and covertly (various guerrilla activities as well as Chen’s own superhero antics). With Andrew Lau’s super glossy camera overdosing on the glamour of 1930s Shanghai (and Shu Qi: whoa) and Donnie Yen’s acrobatic and ultimately brutal choreography, a tribute to and expansion of Bruce Lee’s aesthetic.
Terrible title though.
It really does look fantastic. The sumptuous glossy spectacle that digital Hong Kong really excels at.
From Vegas to Macau III (2016) — September 17, 2016
Less of a plot than either of the first two films in the series, and even less tethered to reality, in action, story, setting, or character. A bunch of shiny effects thrown at aged stars of the 90s, old movie and TV references: Chow Yun-fat spends a while thinking he’s in Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, a ping-pong match with Jacky Cheung calls back to Johnnie To’s The Eighth Happiness, a little joke about Nick Cheung’s award-winning performance in Unbeatable, a whole sequence set in a prison with leftover costumes from Prison on Fire, even the central romance is Jacky Cheung’s unrequited love for Carina Lau, ala Days of Being Wild, etc etc. The movie loses a half a star though because the two dying robots didn’t crawl past each other like at the end of The Killer.
Of course the whole thing is a riff on the God of Gamblers series, with Chow playing a dual role as the original character and this newer farcical incarnation, kind of as if his amnesia-induced split personalities in that first film had developed into two separate realities. Andy Lau unites them (as he did the original series and Stephen Chow’s parody of it), reprising his role as the Knight of Gamblers, but his performance bears no relation to that original character: he’s merely a vehicle for dumb slapstick jokes (a literal pie in the face, peeing baby robots) and inside jokes about Lau’s own career. It’s a movie that breaks into a song or an extended effects-driven bit of action, or a series of dumb mostly unfunny jokes at any opportunity. But there’s something liberating about Wong Jing’s indifference to normalcy.