Capsule Reviews | Cast & Crew | Young and Dangerous 1 | Young and Dangerous 2 | Young and Dangerous 3 | Once Upon a Time in Triad Society 1 | The Triad Boyz phenomenon: list of all the films | Additional Notes
|Young and dangerous 1||Gu huo zi zhi ren zai jiang hu||Young rascals: man of the world|
|Young and dangerous 2||Gu huo zi II zhi meng long guo jiang||Young rascals II: mighty dragon crosses river|
|Young and dangerous 3||Gu huo zi III zhi zhi shou zhe tian||Young rascals 3: single hand covers sky|
|Young and dangerous 4||97 gu huo zi zhan wu bu sheng||97 wise guys no war cannot be won|
Cast: Dior Cheng Yee-Kin, Jordan Chan Siu-Chun, Gigi Lai Chi, Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Spencer Lam Seung-Yee, Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, Anthony Wong Chow-Sun, Karen Joy Morris (Mok Man-Wai), Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung
also starring just about everybody else in HK, including:
Jerry Lamb Hiu-Fung, Michael Tse Tin-Wah, Jason Chu Wing-Tong, Ng Chi-Hung, Shing Fui-On, Ha Ping, Cow Man, Dickey Yau, Lui Chun, Halina Tam Siu-Wan, Moses Chan Ho, Blacky Ko Sau-Leung, Lui Chun, Lee Lik-Chi, Lee Siu-Kei.
|Five young hoodlums (led by the pretty but slight Dior Cheng) sing karaoke, murder, joke around, get beaten up, win and lose women, and learn the value of blind loyalty in director and cinematographer Andrew Lau's nighttime neon-glitzy up-tempo HK gangster world. A sour, stylishly glib and morally challenged movie, sporting state-of-the-art slick visuals. It's too tempting to attribute this to the black hand of Wong Jing, who knows how to make immensely entertaining films out of almost nothing. But the same producer/director team made the similar but vastly more substantial "film bleu" To Live and Die in Tsimshatsui, in 1994. That movie had some sense of the complex, ambiguous moral world that its underworld characters inhabited, or rejected. Y&D1 doesn't seem to care: image is all.|
|What a change from the first installment. That movie seemed like a glib exercise in style: this one weds style with substance, humour, rich detail, caustic wit, and a sensational performance by Jordan Chan. He dominates the movie: in addition to a fascinating and charismatic physical presence, Chan has added an ability to deliver rich, nuanced and quirky line readings. It's a pleasure to witness the arrival of a new A-level movie star. The movie is full of fine performances (and one seriously weak one: Chingmy Yau is way out of her depth as a gangster's Japanese moll). Y&D 2 has loads of attitude: it flaunts a black, savage mockery of Taiwanese politics -- ambitious Taipei gangsters fill the Taiwan Legislature (I guess HK triads are relatively less corrupt, since they haven't infiltrated HK politics, just the film industry). Extrapolate to other territories as far as you dare. With the commercial success of Young and Dangerous 1, Manfred Wong and Andrew Lau apparently felt free to experiment; and they've come up with an entirely original, smart and entertaining movie. A highlight of 1996, so far.|
|The Y&D series gets stronger and more ambitious with each sequel. In part 3, Andrew Lau and Manfred Wong push the Triad Boyz beyond stylish young toughs on the streets, and into romantic comedy, farce, family drama, and morality play. Part 3's breadth and energy are remarkable. An energy charged by Lau's restless hand held camera and relentlessly creative framing, and sustained by a collection of fine performances. The sizzling tension between Karen Mok's profane daredevil of a priest's daughter and Jordan Chan's richly characterized "Chicken" deserves its own movie. A bizarre Amsterdam travelogue sequence breaks the flow, but only temporarily. Spencer Lam's priest builds from anxious father to religious hero, as his morally-energized followers temporarily stymie the violent gangs. Lau and Wong have set up a terrifying, operatic climax between Roy Cheung's absolute evil, Dior Cheng's steadfast loyalty, and Gigi Lai's female vulnerability (a Manfred Wong weak point): this scene explodes with a force that I haven't seen in HK films in quite a while. Followed by a grim finale. Recurring funeral rites mark the violent overthrow of the old "order" by a self-perpetuating anarchy. The Priest is absent, the police are ineffectual spectators as the cycle of vengance and mourning spins again.|
Cast: Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Loletta Lee Lai-Chun, Edmond So Chi-Wai, Pauline Chan Po-Lin, Spencer Lam Seung-Yi, Allen Ting Chi-Chun, Chan Wai-Man
|It's fascinating to watch how fast and how confidently the Triad Boyz genre is developing. Here's an unofficial sequel to Young and Dangerous 1 that has already spawned its own sequel (OUTTS 2). And the formula doesn't sit still: OUTTS 1 takes the point of view (or multiple points of view) of very very bad guy Kwan, arguably the star of Y&D 1. Francis Ng's performance as Kwan is a tour de force. In this Rashomon-like fractured narrative, Ng creates a prodigiously varied number of takes on Kwan the Triad scum: you loathe him, you sympathise with him, you're along for the ride, possibly against your better judgment. And how to respond to his two worst crimes, murders filmed for their jolt value: are they sick farce? cynical butchery? or maybe somehow both. The supporting roles are weakly cast, but OUTTS recoups with jazzy, effervescent photography and lots of raw on-the-streets settings.|
|Young and Dangerous is not only a series: it's a phenomenon. The original spawned about 11 spin-offs, released in a rush between March and September, 1996. Here is a (complete, I hope) list of the entire set, with links to the Hong Kong Cinema Database.|
|In retrospect, given the way this series has evolved, I think I have to revise my opinion of the first installment. The increasingly dark, political direction that the sequels have taken casts Y&D 1 in a new light. Andrew Lau and Manfred Wong, I'm now convinced, were aiming at something ambitious: to give a representation or even a critique of fin-de-siècle Hong Kong society on the verge of 1997.
Their choice of the self-contained society of triad youths ("gu huo zi" [Mandarin], or "goo wat jai [Cantonese]") to represent this society in microcosm is provocative: a harsher, more cynical mirror of Hong Kong society would be difficult to imagine. That 1996 Hong Kong youth culture would take so readily to the styles and attitudes depicted in these films is even more disquieting.
In Lau and Wong's vision of Hong Kong, the criminal jianghu, the self-contained world of the triads, with its own actors, customs, and rules of behaviour, has taken over the mainstream. Y&D implies that it is possible to see mainstream society as a coherent entity only if it is viewed in the jianghu's terms. Violence, greed, pure struggles for power, and cynical amorality seem to have leeched out of the underworld, and infected every other sphere of society, to the point where they define the whole. Thus we have a kind of reverse moral imperialism: the Colony has been colonized by the criminal values of the Chinese triad world, or rather by its valuelessness: Western imperialism's defeat comes not at the hands of a renascent Chinese national pride, but from the colonized people's dark underside. Some victory.
The shallowness of the purported hero, Ho Nam (played by Dior Cheng Yee-Kin, Hong Kong's new heartthrob), is one index of the severely restricted horizon of what is possible in this world. Ho Nam seems like an undercharacterized stock figure from triad films: he is nothing but the sum of his blind, robot-like adherence to group loyalty. That's it: there is no creativity, virtually no character there. The more glorious traditions of heroic, impassioned, larger-than life loyalty canonized in John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat's collaborations in the late 80's have collapsed into this empty shell. Ho Nam goes through the motions repeatedly (one might say obsessively) --his loyalty is challenged, he proves himself -- it happens in each of the parts of the series. But this begins to feel mechanical the third time around, as if it only built into the plot because the genre compels it. Perhaps in a de-moralized world, Y&D suggests, the only type of heroism available is a vacant, ritualistic shadow of the original.
A Y&D spin-off, Once Upon a Time in Triad Society 1, acknowledges this point, and stretches it one step farther. Its central figure is Ho Nam's opposite, the bad-guy "Ugly Kwan" (played by Francis Ng Chun-Yu). Celebrating the villain replaces venerating the hero. Kwan is easily the most charismatic figure in the young triad world: he is creative, mesmerizing, larger-than-life. And his genre-dictated role as bad-guy is complicated, put into question by the film's fragmented structure. The implications are disturbing to contemplate. The moral inversion that characterizes this triad youth film's world view has consequences that severely disrupt the film's narrative coherence -- to the point of calling into question our fundamental assumptions that identity can be fixed, that truth can be determined.
The best that the triad youth films have to offer is a vision of generational change. The films possess a concrete historical sense, an understanding that events are situated in history, and subject to change. We see a traumatic, progressive transition in gang leaders, from older to younger. But it would be difficult to characterize the result as an improvement. In fact, part 3 suggests exactly the opposite: the elders had rules (a culture, a web of relationships, mutual respect); the new just have style, the latest elaborate hair and costumes, aggressive poses, with nothing solid underneath.
Without belabouring the point, it is hard not to see how this mirrors Hong Kong's transition in 1997, an evolution from bad to possibly worse. Outdated colonialism is to be superseded by native authoritarianism. In formal terms, the result might be much more attractive, but it is not at all clear whether Hong Kongers, like their young triad idols, will be any better off.
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