Monday, December 31, 2007

Hong Kong Films

Final spotlight of the year shines on Hong Kong.

Divergence (2005, Benny Chan)
Triangle (2007, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To, Hark Tsui)
Who's Next (2007, Chung Kai-Cheong)

A Cop, A killer and a Girl:

Suen (Aaron Kwok who turned in a great performance in After this our Exile) plays a cop trusted with bringing a key witness safely into custody. But along the way, a sniper kills the witness. The sniper has a chance to take out Suen but he leaves him alive (reason is revealed later). Besides this case, Suen is haunted by images of the girl that left him 10 years ago. He thinks the murder case and his girlfriend's disappearance are connected.

After a decent set-up, the film disintegrates towards the end. Still there are some neat sequences in the movie. One worthy sequence takes place when Suen is chasing the sniper through a food market.

The noise of everyday things like fishes being chopped, carts being moved, ice being crushed are all around him. But he manages to tune everything else out and his ears pick up on just one noise -- heavy panting of the sniper. The fight that follows between the two is just fascinating to watch.

Also, a small cameo for Suet Lam. I have grown to enjoy his presence in so many Johnny To films. But in this movie's case, his screen time is just limited to two scenes.

The Three masters:

The concept of three well known Hong Kong directors making a movie together was just intriguing. Of the trio of Tsui Hark, Johnny To and Ringo Lam, I am most familiar with Johnny To as I have watched atleast 7 of his movies. I have seen some old Tsui Hark movies and only saw portions of his last featureSeven Swords. Ringo Lam is the one I am least familiar with.

So with great expectations I tuned into Triangle. But as it turns out, my film version had no English subtitles. Even though I managed to get a feel for the film, I missed out on some interesting conversations and even some not so obvious sub-plots. So I will only focus my attention on the obvious overall robbery plot.

Each director worked on a 30 minute film segment and all three make up a continuous film. While the first two segments have a similar feel to them, it is easy to pick out Johnny To's final segment.

Segment One: Set-up of the treasure robbery:

Tsui Hark kicks things off with the robbery setup. Three men are given information about a hidden treasure underneath a building. The three quickly manage to get the treasure chest out and attempt to escape, despite being chased by gangsters.

Segment Two: The betrayal starts:

The first segment also shows that one of the three men's wives (the wife of Simon Yam's character) is having an affair with a corrupt cop. Sure enough, the corrupt cop wants a piece of the treasure. While the gangsters also want the treasure as one of the three men was in debt to them. So this segment develops the mind games and betrayal further.

Pace-wise, this segment is along the same speed as the first 30 minutes. Although, one scene of violence sets this segment apart. But Ringo Lam has flushed a lot of the character's personality in this segment with the aid of an extended tense torture sequence. Definitely, something I need to revisit with English subtitles again.

Segment Three: The shoot out:

Suet Lam's appearance signals the final Johnny To segment. As all the three men along with the cop and mafia head to one location, Suet Lam's character appears out of nowhere to complicate things further. And when slowly, one by one, the guns start appearing, we can anticipate a thrilling climax.

But unlike the flashy gun shoot out sequence in To's Exiled, the final gun shoot out is more subdued and along the lines of what would expect from his brilliant Election films. This segment was a treat to watch though and with minimal dialogue, it was easy to just focus on the tension hovering in the air.

Overall, it is interesting to see three different directors make one continuous flowing film.

And finally, the Triads:

Johnny To's Election and Election 2 are masterful works which probe the life of the Triads and the violent games that hover beneath the group's democratic surface. Safe to say, his works are the finest in covering the gangster's lives. But I am sure there are (and will be) plenty of imitation films that will attempt to show the lives of the Triad members. One such substandard effort is Chung Kai-Cheong's Who's Next. The film shows a battle that takes place to head a triad group when the existing leader is killed by a rival gang. And thrown in the chaotic mix is an Anti-triad group. Some laughs and plenty of over the top acting.

Ratings (out of 10):

Divergence: 7
Who's Next: 5

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