Action trumps coherence

Director Ringo Lam paints Hong Kong as a society where money talks

Louis Koo is a bar owner who gets embroiled in a world of gangsters when he tries to help a drunk customer one night.
Louis Koo is a bar owner who gets embroiled in a world of gangsters when he tries to help a drunk customer one night. PHOTO: MM2 ENTERTAINMENT



102 minutes/Opens tomorrow

3/5 Stars

The story: Bar owner and ex-cop T-Man (Louis Koo) stops drunk customer Siu Yuen (Tong Liya) from driving one night but that act of kindness spirals into violence for both when crooked lawyer George (Tse Tin Wah) deploys his thugs against them to retrieve a case of dirty money. Man's hot-headed taxi driver stepbrother Chung (Shawn Yue) wants to do the right thing, but is distracted by the money in the briefcase.

The opening shot is of a Hong Kong currency note and images of the homeless and the poverty-stricken. The closing scene involves a gun accidentally shooting off a chunk of the blindfolded Lady Justice atop a courthouse.

This is Hong Kong writer- director Ringo Lam at his heavy- handed best, or worst, depending on how you look at it. This movie marks his return to the crime thriller genre, a field he dominated some years ago with City On Fire (1987) and Full Alert (1997).

If Hong Kong is as wild as the title and the action in this movie suggest, it is because of the toxic nature of money, here literally embodied in a cash-stuffed briefcase at the centre of a struggle among the people on the run, namely T-Man, Siu Yeun and stepbrother Chung on one side, and the villains on the other.

The film struggles with a didactic script, filled with unsubtle declarations about character and the nature of Hong Kong's money-talks society.

"I am not a good cop," intones the upright Man at one point, turning in his badge, while at another point, someone else points out that in the former colony, "everything is about money".

Film-maker Lam clearly does not believe in the view of one straw man character who says that "Hong Kong is ruled by law".

His cynicism suffuses this movie - in the lack of depth and woodenness in the "good" characters, and in how much time he spends fleshing out the thoughts and feelings of the earthy, Hokkien-spouting Taiwanese gangsters, led by Blackie (Chang Hsiao-chuan).

The hitmen are the most fun and believable element in this work, a fact greatly aided by Chang's scarily intense performance.

The lads sing, drink and truly enjoy busting kneecaps and breaking heads. Not for money, but out of camaraderie and a good work ethic. A lot of their behaviour has the reckless and amoral joie de vivre one finds in the best South Korean crime arthouse movies.

As the baddies chase Man and gang hither and yon, smashing cars and across the water in speedboats, storytelling coherence is sacrificed at the altar of action.

The cynic Lam hurriedly and somewhat insincerely wraps up the picture in a sort-of happy ending. Justice prevails - but not without first taking a bullet or two.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Action trumps coherence'. Subscribe