Monday, November 23, 2009

Herman Yau's Laughing Gor-Turning Point (2009)

Hong Kong cinema has forever changed its image of the undercover cop. John Woo's Hard Boiled (1992) is my earliest memory: Woo's phenomenal action sequences accompanied by excellent performances by Yun-fat Chow and especially Tony Leung Chiu Wai, as the undercover cop. Leung's representative performance is a man torn: a cop so deep into Triad life that he assumes the lifestyle completely, and his police identity known only by one within the force. His actions do not conform to a righteous police officer or a wholly nasty gangster. His loyalties are always divided as with the two worlds in which he lives, he has made oaths and allegiances to both. Spiritually, it is too much for the character, and his internal conflict becomes his undoing. In 2002, Andrew Lau directed the massively popular Infernal Affairs, which starred Hong Kong's biggest names and was remade by Martin Scorsese in 2006 as The Departed, which garnered him an Academy Award and also starred some of America's biggest actors. Watching both in close proximity, either film reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the other. Neither Infernal Affairs nor The Departed is particularly compelling. There were more interesting films to come with this new archetype, deeper and more complex situations into which the undercover cop is truly torn.
While Andrew Lau would direct two more Infernal Affairs sequels and produce cash-ins made in their wake, such as Billy Chung Siu-Hung's Undercover (2007), it would be Herman Yau who would make a truly notable contribution to the genre with his On the Edge (2006). The film took as its premise the cop previously in deep cover now exposed: how would his life turn out, if he donned the police uniform again and played just the one side? Nick Cheung gives a memorable performance as the officer, supported by equally strong performances by Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Francis Ng (with a smart script and assured direction from Yau). Yau's back at it again with Laughing Gor-Turning Point (2009), taking the undercover cop theme as deep as it gets.
With few frames, Yau sets his exposition. Lit behind a sliding window, a silhouette makes a call to the police, speaking of an "operation" and begging for, this time, a "signal." The police rush out of the station in two units, one being led by Officer Xian (Yuen Biao). Cut to the club, and amidst the flashing lights, sits flamboyant, mohawked Brother One (Anthony Wong), who gets a nudge from one of his numerous ladies and then hits the streets. The police are trailing Wong's Brother One, who constantly changes his final destination, sending his driver erratically all over Hong Kong to allude the police. In the confusion, the police vehicles get into an accident. Officer Xian is seriously injured and his unit out. The second unit heads to intercept Wong's operation. At a local dock, the Triads are unloading drugs, cigarettes, and other contraband. Brother Laughing (Michael Tse), accompanies Wong at the crime scene, and the police arrive. Tse's Laughing attempts to flee but injures his leg. The police nab him, and as he is violently being interrogated by the cops, Brother One, Master Ford (Eric Tsang), and Zatoi (Francis Ng), the three Triad heads, are meeting to discuss Laughing's fate.
A complex web of relationships is weaved. It is not a spoiler to reveal that Tse's Laughing is the mole. It would be a spoiler, however, to reveal which side, Triad or cop, as to where his allegiance lies (if either). It is not a spoiler to reveal that Wong's Brother One and Ng's Zatoi do not like each other, as Yau's initial scene with the two reveals, cleverly. With one frame, Yau creates the power relationship as the three are sitting at a table with Master Ford at the head, and Wong and Ng sitting across from each other. During this same scene, Master Ford reveals that Wong's Brother One was once a cop now completely a Triad (and accepted fully by the organization). It is also revealed during this same scene that it was Wong who brought Tse's Laughing into the organization. Brother One and Laughing have an interesting history which is shown in flashbacks throughout Turning Point. Michael Tse's character as the undercover cop and his development as a Triad/cop is the focus, buttressed strongly by an external struggle involving Brother One and Zatoi with the police having a strong influence. The story is extremely well-written as each subsequent scene plays out unexpectedly. There are a few overly-melodramatic scenes which are now staples of this genre, such as Tse pouring his heart out more than once that this "life" is killing him.
Yau continues his impressive visuals and action sequences. In one particular scene, very early, Tse's Laughing is discovered at a hideout. As he makes his escape, Yau virtually forgoes any showing of combat. Through a rising tension, such as Laughing picking up a cleaver before opening an unknown door, and some clever edits, such as Laughing calmly encountering a patrolling policeman, Tse makes his escape. Michael Tse gives an excellent performance, yet it's the veteran actors, Wong and Ng, who are the highlight. Outwardly, Wong plays one of his most outrageous and flamboyant characters yet, with a mohawk, sometimes wearing a shawl or boa or even lipstick. Inwardly, however, his character is extremely complex whose intensity is only revealed in his quiet moments. In a seemingly innocuous scene, Brother One details the evening plans to his ladies while riding in the car. With a veteran actor's timing, Wong's delivery of his lines creates a powerful tension and revelation. Ng's Zatoi is initially a mysterious character but as the film plays out, he also hides a strong internal conflict with very strong conflicting loves (from which a brilliant scene comes from Ng.)
The cultural genesis and some facts about the production are included here which also serves as a link for purchase.

1 comment:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Outstandin review, Hans. Hong Kong must be the only place where the police and the criminals are not the same people. And that is large and in charge.