SYNOPSIS: College-educated Harvard decides to become a gangster. He is promoted through the ranks, then heads his own team. As Hong Kong prepares for its 1997 handover, Harvard works with the police to ensure survival of his gang. His former boss BJ helps him out and they swear friendship. Harvard is able to move along with the times, cashing in on trends just ahead of the authorities. He gets into businesses beyond their jurisdiction, particularly internet porn. Harvard goes legitimate, getting rid of the violet aspects of gangsterhood, alienating the fighters and those who cannot adapt. Harvard decides to resolve a gangland power struggle by himself – but discovers that the person betraying him is…
The triad genre has always been one of the signatures of Hong Kong cinema, though admittedly in recent years, the disappearance of such organised criminal activities from the colony has also led to fewer such films compared to its late 1990s peak when ‘Young and Dangerous’ was the talk of the town. Yet in spite of its declining fortunes, there are those like filmmaker Daniel Chan who continue to hold the fort, with not one but two additions to the genre within just two months.
Skipping a local theatrical run, ‘Triad’ was in fact released before his ‘Young and Dangerous: Reloaded’ and if the intentionally more violent (rated Cat III in Hong Kong, or the highest in the territory) doesn’t quite reinvent the wheel, it still is a nice throwback to the not so distant past when the genre was in its heydays. And following the narrative template of many of such films, this one again tracks the fortunes of a young and ambitious member as he rises to power amidst the ranks before falling down just as spectacularly.
That dubious honour here belongs to William (William Chan), a bookish type at the start who feels the temptations of power when veteran triad leader Patrick (Patrick Tam) rescues him, his mother and his pals from the bullying of another rival gang. Thanks to his business smarts, William quickly ascends within Patrick’s Heng Gang triad, with the latter settling into a father figure whom he turns to for advice and sometimes desperate help.
What would a triad film be without the perennial themes of loyalty, brotherhood and sacrifice? So William gets two buddies - Derek (Derek Tsang) and Edward (Edward Chui), both of whom are pretty much like what Chicken is Chan Ho-Nam – as well as a sweet demure girlfriend Michelle (Michelle Wai) whose father forbids them from being together unless he quits the triads. Despite advice to the contrary, William gets drawn deeper by the lure of power and money, his arrogance not endearing himself to the other Heng Gang elders - Ming (Lam Lei), his wife Sister Irene (Irene Wan) and right-hand man Kin (Deep Ng).
Even with a total of seven writers, the script is pretty much perfunctory from start to end – sans a twist at the end that nicely rules out the potential of a sequel. But what keeps the film buoyant are the surprisingly engaging performances from a whole host of fresh faces. Except for Patrick Tam whom you would probably have seen in some supporting role before, this will probably be the first time you’re seeing most of the young cast, who largely acquit themselves nicely with charisma and verve. Their spirited act also helps to overcome some of director Daniel Chan’s directorial shortcomings, which betray his inexperience having just helmed one other film before this.
Like we said, those looking for surprises will likely be disappointed, but ‘Triad’ offers comfort food for those who have grown up watching such genre pictures – and while this may not have the brand name of ‘Young and Dangerous’, it is deliberately edgier than ‘Reloaded’ and therefore more entertaining. Check your appetite for a ‘gu waak jai’ movie and if you find yourself starved, then you might just enjoy this a lot more.
Picture is clear and sharp with colours looking lively and dynamic - pity the audio, which doesn't come with a Cantonese audio track.
DVD RATING :
Review by Gabriel Chong