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August 22, 2014


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Jat jik
Daniel Chan - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I would think it deliberate that the main narrative in Triad begins in 1997. Aside from being the year of the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to mainland China, the film can be seen as a reclamation of sorts of the kind of genre cinema that belonged distinctly to Hong Kong. Triad is a film specifically about Hong Kong, made primarily for a Hong Kong audience, and in Cantonese, as opposed to the Mandarin language productions made to appeal to mainland audiences and the Chinese diaspora.

Nothing here will come as anything new to those who have seen the now classic, or even not-so classic Hong Kong gangster films from John Woo, Tsui Hark, Johnnie To and a host of others. What distinguishes Triad is that it does place extra emphasis on the organized aspect of organized crime. Most of the crime is in the beatings and killings between gang members, and it is less important that respect for position and a sometimes complex structure of relationships. Blood oaths are made where the gang relationships take precedence over everything else. Gender is even set aside in the case of a female gang leader, given both honorifics of Big Sister and Uncle.

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The basic setup of three young friends who join the triads is familiar enough. The smart one, university educated William, comes to the aid of his mother, attacked by a self-styled gang operating a protection racket. The mother's extremely modest fruit stall hardly looks like it's worth the effort of extorting more than pocket money. William is assisted by his two best friends, but it is local gangster, Patrick, who puts an end to the street brawl. William vows to join Patrick's organization when he graduates, ultimately climbing the ranks with a combination of street smarts and book smarts.

It's the two main supporting players who are of the most interest here. Both are older, about the same age, and more interested in staying behind the scenes. Patrick, who acts as mentor to the the three friends, chooses to dress casually most of the time, and conduct business in the fruit market section of Hong Kong, away from the high rises and the expensive clubs and shops. Irene is something of a Lady Macbeth, who has men, especially her husband, act as her proxy for the physical violence meted out to various enemies. The two deaths near the end of the film might even strike some viewers as being Shakespearean with the bloody stabbings that take place.

A reference that might be lost on stateside viewers is when one of the characters mentions that he felt like he was in a "Teddyboy" movie. While the British roots can not be denied, what is actually referred to here is the graphic novel that inspired the Young and Dangerous film series. The visual aspects of Triad often appear inspired by the Hong Kong manga, and it is probably what has led Daniel Chan to have followed up this film with Young and Dangerous:Reloaded, renewing the Hong Kong gangster movie for a younger audience.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 22, 2014 07:30 AM