By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Milkyway Productions is the brainchild of directors Wai Ka-fai (who previously gave us Chow Yun-fat's Hong Kong swan song, Peace Hotel) and the ever reliable Johnnie To, who scored pre-Milkyway hits like Heroic Trio. Using a regular group of cast and crew (actor Lau Ching-wan may convince some here that he is the successor to Chow Yun-fat), To and Wai have churned out an impressive body of films, which, if not commercial successes, have certainly been critical darlings.
Patrick Yau's The Longest Nite is an expressionistic Macao gangster tour de force starring Tony Leung as an extremely nasty cop under the thumb of a triad kingpin. His life suddenly spins out of control with the arrival of a mysterious man played by Lau Ching-wan, who has set up a conspiracy against Leung so nihilistic and convoluted it would have Brian De Palma drooling. To's A Hero Never Dies tries to one-up John Woo on almost every level, and often succeeds: A pair of opposing hitmen, played by Lau Ching-wan and Canto-pop icon Leon Lai, suffer similar fates when their warring bosses make nice and decide that both men are disposable. The film goes on to a Better Tomorrow-like scenario in which each vows revenge. The best entry in the series is The Mission, in which five disparate gangsters are hired to protect a triad kingpin. The film strikes a comfortable balance between stylistic excess and characterization; with its emphasis on small moments of camaraderie over ballistic gunfights, it plays more like a Beat Takeshi movie than the usual HK fare.
Spacked Out, directed by Lawrence Ah Mon (Larry Lau), could be seen as a follow-up to his 1987 neorealist epic, Gangs. Using an impressive group of nonactors, the film chronicles the lives of four 13-year-old girls from poor and broken families whose futures seem to hold only drugs, abortions, and petty crime. The antithesis of the other gangster-glam films in this series, Spacked Out is a sobering reminder that small-time triad life is rarely heroic.
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