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Capsule Reviews

Triads - The Inside Story    (1989)
Chow Yun Fat’s forgotten classic.

This is perhaps one of the most brushed over films of not only the career of Chow Yun Fat, but of the Triad genre. The film features an intricate view of the Triad lifestyle, a kind of Hong Kong Godfather, highlighting the highs and lows of the lives these characters lead, and the consequences that follow their actions.

Li Man-Ho (Chow Yun Fat) comes to Hong Kong after his father's death at the hands of a rival gang during a supposedly peaceful meeting. The family's business begins to crumble as rival organizations exploit this weakness by stirring trouble. Li Man-Ho reluctantly agrees after pressure from other members of the gang to temporarily act as their leader in order to restore stability and order. It isn’t long before he finds himself in the middle of this brutal world he avoided for so many years.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Triads is its unformulaic approach to the story, especially for a genre film of this area. It goes against convention and represents many interesting factors setting it apart from other titles. It is a mystery why this film has not received the acknowledgement it deserves. Perhaps due to the pro-Triad slant that this and many others of the genre have been tagged with, notably the Young and Dangerous films --yet the popularity of that series never suffered. Another factor could be that 1989 was a very busy year for Chow, and as a result Triads could have been swept under the carpet in favour of releases like God of Gamblers and The Killer, made the same year. The fact remains that this film has a relatively low budget, and despite a few violent scenes, the story is far more dramatic and character driven rather than being reliant on overuse of action. Chow delivers a role against his typecast as a reluctant gang boss, not the suave, trigger-happy gunman of John Woo Heroic Bloodshed films. After avoiding the position and responsibility of leading the Triad, Li Man-Ho is morally blackmailed into using his intelligence to prevent his father’s gang from being wiped out. Chow is given excellent support by a host of top-rate actors who dominate the screen in equal measure. Shing Fui On, Michael Chan and Roy Cheung deliver performances of intensity and sincerity that stand as some of the strongest in their careers. Director, Taylor Wong, uses a very simplistic and disconnected method of direction, which, at times, gives the film an almost documentary feel in which the camera simply rolls while men are talking in a room and the audience is virtually eavesdropping. This allows for the drama and portrayal of the characters to lead the story in a more fluent and naturalistic way, feeling far less theatrical.

The film contains a large number of references and cultural and historical traditions of the society, which was in fact quite rare for a film at this time. Ceremonies, handshakes, honorary celebrations and their significance were later highlighted in titles such as Johnnie To's Election but very few films displayed this type of historic detail in the 1980s. This once again characterises the film as very different from others in the genre and, arguably, very much ahead of its time.

For those wishing to see a less-known project of Chow’s career or anyone who enjoys a gritty, unflinching gangster film that challenges convention, Triads: The Inside Story is highly recommended.
Mike Fury 11/17/2006 - top

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 11/17/2006 Mike Fury

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