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September 06, 2011

Triad Underworld

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Jiang Hu
Wong Ching-po - 2004
Palisades Tartan Region 1 DVD

I know it wasn't everyone's cup of chai, but I was one of those people saddened by the demise of the Tartan DVD label. Sure, they focussed on certain kinds of films, but the Tartan Asia Extreme label was how many of us were introduced to Park Chan-wook, Shinya Tsukamoto, personal favorite - the Pang Brothers, and other Asian filmmakers of varying repute. I even saw every Tartan Asia Extreme DVD in the Denver Public Library. Since the closure of the original company, many of the original titles are available again through Palisades Tartan. The new DVD, Triad Underworld seems to indicate that the new company is picking up where the original Tartan left off.

The stylization barely hides a relatively simple story. Two young punks, looking to make their reputation as Hong Kong gangsters, make their way through the streets on the way to kill an established gang boss. Their target, Hung, has just become a father. While young Yik and Turbo weave in and out of back streets and alleys, Hung and his best friend, Lefty, discuss Hung's possible retirement from criminal life. Cutting between the two sets of friends, the film establishes the parallels between Yik and Turbo, and the days when Hung and Lefty first made names for themselves.

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I don't know if Wong Ching-po as seen the films by Gaspar Noe, but visually there are similarities. The opening shots track through a restaurant as the staff cautiously walks around Edison Chen, the volatile Turbo. Claustrophobic nightclubs crammed with kids dancing also makes me think of Noe, as do shots of large, empty urban environments such as warehouses and tunnels. During one scene, Hung and Lefty are eating dinner in Lefty's restaurant, and Wong cuts between the two, with the background in continual motion, indicating the lack of stability in the relationship between these two longtime friends. Again like Noe, Wong is interested in creating visual equivalents to ever shifting senses of self.

Even though Andy Lau is one of the producers, his own role is the less showy Hung. The more dramatic appearances are by Jacky Cheung as the dreadlocked Lefty, with Shawn Yue as Yik. Virtually axiomatic in a Hong Kong gangster film is an appearance by Eric Tsang, with the five foot four inch actor playing a mob boss named Tall Guy. Johnny To mascot Lam Suet is briefly seen as a hapless cop who's lost his gun to Yik and Turbo.

Although he's yet to make his reputation internationally, Wong Ching-po was awarded Best New Director for the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2005. I should also note that Wong's newest film, Revenge: A Love Story has been getting attention at the festival circuit. Triad Underworld was also nominated for costume design and art direction, fitting for a film that stronger in style than substance. The strongest dramatic moments are part of a subplot involving Yue going on a brief crime spree of several convenience stores to get enough cash to redeem his would-be girlfriend from a life of prostitution. Lin Yuan displays more spunk and energy as the prostitute named Yoyo than any of the guys that I had wished she had more scenes. Another very nice moment is when Yoyo writes her phone number on Yik's back, and in time honored movie tradition let's him know that she'll be waiting for him when he completes his mission. This is the first film I've seen by Wong Ching-po, and given the opportunity, not the last. The visual bravura makes Triad Underworld worth watching, even though it doesn't do enough to hide a familiar story.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 6, 2011 08:06 AM


Congratulations on having among the most sophisticated blogs Ive come across in some time! Its just incredible how much it is possible to take away from something basically due to how visually gorgeous it's. Youve put together an excellent blog space --great graphics, videos, layout. This is certainly a must-see blog!

Posted by: Sho Sakurai at September 7, 2011 02:45 AM