Gritty, authentic take on crime and justice in Hong Kong

Donnie Yen (far left) as real-life drug lord Ng Sik Ho and Andy Lau as a corrupt police officer in Chasing The Dragon.
Donnie Yen (far left) as real-life drug lord Ng Sik Ho and Andy Lau as a corrupt police officer in Chasing The Dragon. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / CRIME DRAMA

CHASING THE DRAGON (NC16)

128 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

The story: An illegal immigrant (Donnie Yen) who sneaks into Hong Kong in 1963 finds that he gets paid more to fight than to work. He soon rises through the ranks of the underworld because of his fighting skills to become the feared drug lord Crippled Ho. Detective sergeant Lui Lok (Andy Lau) enjoys a parallel ascent in these tumultuous times and the two men forge a partnership.

The selling point of this movie is the first-time collaboration between Hong Kong superstars Donnie Yen and Andy Lau. The bigger surprise is that king of B-grade movies Wong Jing has pulled off an entertaining epic crime flick.

Chasing The Dragon is a new take on the acclaimed crime drama To Be Number One (1991), in which Ray Lui played the real-life gangster Ng Sik Ho, or Crippled Ho. But instead of a slavish remake, the film-makers have smartly conflated it with the story of corrupt cop Lui Lok and used it as an opportunity to increase the star wattage.

Yen is credible as he goes from Teochew-speaking penniless immigrant to ruthless criminal despite being hampered by a limp. His character wants to keep his conscience clean, even as he sinks deeper and deeper into a life of crime. This means Yen gets to exercise both his acting chops and his chopsocky moves.

Lau, having previously played the same role in Lee Rock and Lee Rock II (both in 1991), is comfortable here as the slick cop looking out for himself.

But when put together, the two A-listers come up short in portraying the relationship of two men bound together by brotherhood, blood and money.

Good thing the story itself is engaging. It casts an eye on crime and justice in Hong Kong over a span of several decades, during which the Independent Commission Against Corruption, formed in 1974, turned out to be an agency with real bite, instead of a paper tiger.

The scenes here of the now-demolished Kowloon Walled City are fascinating. The infamously lawless slum has not been sanitised and as the camera winds its way through a maze of drug dens, gambling houses and street hawkers, planes fly absurdly low overhead, rubbish is strewn everywhere and danger lurks around every corner.

Perhaps credit for the film's gritty authenticity is due to Wong's co-director Jason Kwan, who makes his directorial debut here after winning praise for his work as a cinematographer on films such as crime thriller Cold War (2012) and romance comedy Love In A Puff (2010).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline 'Gritty, authentic take on crime and justice in Hong Kong'. Print Edition | Subscribe