After many years of excellent action in front of the camera, Shaw actor-turned-filmmaker Johnny Wang Lung Wei draws upon The Godfather and other classic gangster stories to deliver an overly ambitious film that falls down a lot, almost becomes a full fledged gangster saga, and then climaxes in a bloody, violent, balls out, last-man-standing mess. It is a flat, cheesy, low-budget affair with mediocre art direction, uninspired photography and mostly subpar acting. And it is pretty wonderful. Had Wang injected deeper meaning into his story, the productions flaws could easily be overlooked and this film would probably be hailed as an early Triad movie masterpiece. It might just be anyway.
The plot is simple. Elderly gentleman triad leader Han (Sek Kin) controls Tsimshatsui East along with relative newcomer Rotten Chi (Shum Wai) and Han’s sworn brothers, ultra-permed Playboy Lung (Norman Chu) and corrupt cop Sergeant Man (Richard Cheung). When dastardly New York triad leader Lan (Wong Chun) and his henchman (Kong Lung) return to Hong Kong and begin to muscle their way into Han’s territory, Han pushes back and a turf war ensues. It is at this point, about 35 minutes in, that the film becomes a personal drama with investable stakes. Han’s favorite sworn brother Mad Wei (Leung Kar Yan) must come out of retirement to protect his brothers, find and stop the mole that is undermining the gang, protect his own daughter, and seek bloody revenge on Lan and his horde of minions. Revenge is sweet. Especially with machetes.
It is a real shame that so few of the characters are three dimensional human beings. Leung Kar Yan does mad rampage like nobody’s business but he just doesn’t display the kind of sadness, confusion and mental pain that the script demands of Mad Wei. When he busts out his machete, however, mirabile dictu, he’s fantastic. Norman Chu straddles the fence as a somewhat likeable, injured and devastated tough guy, Richard Cheung handles his supporting role with some real emotion, and Sek Kin simply cannot not be riveting. Unfortunately, primary baddie Wong Chun is stiff, one dimensional and about as menacing as a cord of firewood. It is his mole, Rotten Chi, played by Shum Wai, who is responsible for almost all the emotional content. The frightened, egotistical Chi is a marvelously disgusting three-dimensional character, the dramatic link between all major events, and an indispensable man-you-love-to-hate. Without Chi‘s emotional content, Hong Kong Godfather might be unwatchable.