Ringo Lam is one of Hong Kong’s most complex and interesting directors. Working almost exclusively in rigidly established film genres, he manages to crank out meaningful films??films that are absolutely engrossing–at a swift rate. The nuanced sophistication of the many tones he can create, as well as his skill at scene construction, are probably the greatest of any Hong Kong filmmaker today, and his attention to psychological detail is profound. Through the dark glass of a series of venerable genres, he manages to glean points and express themes in ways that no one else has touched upon before. His most original work is so impressive it’s often hard to pin down just what makes it tick; one simply leaves the theater with a sense that the events that have been portrayed illicit a meaning larger than what one has percieved.
Having talked Ringo up like that, I have to say that this is one of his lesser works. It was a success, the first real success since Ringo’s comments on the Tianneman Square massacre (comments to the tune of “”let’s stop crying and have the Dragon Boat Festival already (?);”” Ringo has sited his words as the cause of great ire in Hong Kong??he attributes the public anger aroused by his comments to his lack of popularity as a director in the 90s), but there’s not as much going on in it as in other movies he’s done.
In spite of this, it’s wicked fun. Ringo seeps deep into genre territory, and the first half moves like few movies can move. The second half of the film, however, loses a tremendous amount of energy, as Andy Lau’s characterization suddenly falls flat.
It’s probably Andy’s fault as much as it is the scriptwriter’s fault or Ringo’s fault. As the aircraft pilot going undercover with the CIA to avenge his parents murder, he loses the character’s thread at a key juncture. At the start, his drive for revenge is muted, mixed with the energies and lusts that are also part of his young character’s psyche. But then that revenge never foments, and we never really gain the access we expect to have to Andy’s deep-seated anger.
Everyone else continues to perform smashingly; Rosamund Kwan as the moll of the gangster who killed Andy’s parents, is seductive and dangerous, but also completely understandable in characterization. We understand what her motivations are at all times. The same goes for Wu Chien Lien, who is the gangster’s daughter. As Andy falls in love with Wu, we can see the jealousy aroused in Kwan. But it’s a triangle without a third point; Andy fails to deliver. The passion he has in the movie’s first hour totally dissipates in the second hour. When he finally charges in for revenge against the villainous gangster, the climactic confrontation is eggregiously undercharged.
Andy has been brilliant in a few movies (Moment of Romance, As Tears Go By, and Running Out of Time come to mind), but his performance here is, like the majority of his cinematic efforts, a little lost. He often appears not to know just what he is expected to do. Watch the movie for the two women’s excellent performances. Watch for Ringo Lam’s inspired direction of the first half. But don’t expect anything close to greatness from the erratic Andy.