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Capsule Reviews

Hong Kong Godfather    (1991)
Lo Lieh’s action-fuelled Triad story takes a surprisingly balanced approach to the conflict between police and criminals and the result is a highly energetic gangster drama, with a great ensemble cast to match.

York Koo (Andy Lau) is voted in as acting head of the family Triad when the boss is forced to flee from Hong Kong. As the new head of the family, the inexperienced York must deal with a vast array of problems, including mounting pressure from the Royal Hong Kong police. Fronting the case is Officer Leung (Roy Cheung), a very determined outsider cop who, having just been reassigned from duty in the UK, is unfamiliar and unsympathetic to the often comfortable relationship between cops and Triads. York is also faced with strong opposition from rival gangs who plan on taking advantage of the old boss’ departure, and the vulnerable state of the family business. York’s biggest problem is a rival boss (Lung Fong), who launches attacks on both York’s business, and members, at every opportunity. Concerned with the inevitable outcome, Officer Leung and his colleagues run back and forth, struggling to prevent all-out war on the streets of Hong Kong, but as tension builds, the climax of this conflict looks increasingly bleak.

Hong Kong Godfather is not the best and hardly the most original film of its genre, but the most impressive aspect for me was that it showed an unusually balanced divide between the cops and the Triads. This has since changed, with films such as the Infernal Affairs trilogy giving a far greater emphasis on the grey area that exists on either side of the law. Yet in this film, especially for the period of 1980s and early 1990s gangster films, a clear balance is actually shown, and neither side come across as wholly good or evil. Therefore there is conflict shown on all fronts, whether between gangs, themselves, or between police officers, or between the gangs and the police. This improves the feel of what is otherwise a basic action thriller because it allows interesting characters to grow under the varying circumstances. York begins his journey as an inexperienced, relatively sheltered gangster, who rises to the challenge when the organization is set to crumble. Regular supporting actor, Tommy Wong, gives a great performance as the exasperated, irrational son to the old boss who grows increasingly impatient with negotiations and meetings and would rather wage war all by himself. Andy Lau gives a reasonable lead performance that satisfies basic requirements, but in my opinion he was simply not as good an actor at that time as he is today. Therefore, anyone better acquainted with his far more impressive performances in later films, like Century of the Dragon, Wong Jing’s A True Mob Story, or of course Infernal Affairs, may be a little disappointed in this role that feels a little bland and empty. Roy Cheung undoubtedly steals the show here, as a multi-dimensioned cop who is given enough freedom in the writing to explore his varying characteristics, and generally gives a far more confident and believable performance. Therefore, an otherwise fairly rudimentary story is given some great characters and interesting opportunities to explore new areas of a heavily covered genre.

Stephen Tung also creates some very chaotic but tightly choreographed action sequences, which flood the screen with quite brutal violence, and not the balletic action you might expect. The action here is more bloody and realistic, and sets a much darker tone for the story. I would certainly recommend this for any fans of Lo Lieh and gangster fans in general. It may not be the greatest film of its genre, but it certainly contributes something a little different and something you may not have seen before.
Mike Fury 1/4/2007 - top

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 1/4/2007 Mike Fury

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