Trivisa is the latest product of Johnnie To’s Milkyway Image studio (at least, until his new film opens here on June 24th). Directed by the young trio of Jevons Au, Vicky Wong, and Frank Hui, it’s a crime story set on the eve of Hong Kong’s handover to Mainland China in 1997. A trio of arch-criminals, the so-called “Kings of Thieves” try to make ends meet in the increasingly troublesome last days of the British imperium. Lam Ka-tung tries to keep a low-profile, going after small jewelry store scores, Richie Jen transitions from firearm-heavy bank robbery to business-like smuggling operations, sneaking electronics into the PRC with the full complicity of the local government (and necessitating a series of humiliating meetings in local restaurants (brokered by Lam Suet himself). Jordan Chan is a flamboyant kidnapper, bored with the ease of exploiting the colony’s uber-rich. Chan decides he wants to team-up with the other two, so the three of them can make one last stab at glory before the end times.
But, rather than following through with the expected genre movements, the three directors keep extending the search process, such that we gradually realize that the film is not going to be about the Last Big Score, but about the desperation and disillusionment of three men in middle age, as the country they know is about to disappear forever. The three men’s stories play out individually, and gathering from the end credits, the directors split the work up by character, but I failed to note which director was responsible for which part. Regardless, the differences are seamless, the movie is expertly shot and composed to Milkyway’s typically high standards (no studio in the world makes films that look as good as they do: the aesthetic is about as far as one can get from Corman’s AIP, outside of maybe MGM and Paramount in the 1930s) and edited by To’s regular editor David Richardson. The film is an auspicious debut for the next generation of Hong Kong talent, joining Philip Yung’s Port of Call as a sign of good things to come. Of the three, only Jevons Au has yet made a name for himself, working on the scripts for To’s Romancing in Thin Air and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, and directing one part of the highly political and very successful Hong Kong omnibus Ten Years.