Jiang Hu
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Wong Ching-Po.

Director Wong Ching-Po's first mainstream work is also his best to date. The short running time (under 90 minutes) aggresively compacts the story of Yik (Shawn Yue), a young hood who wins the chance to kill a triad kingpin in an underground lottery (a great visual scene in the film, each gangster hooks up with a girl wearing a green wig at a night club; whoever hooks up with the girl who has the special tattoo wins the lottery. Chapman To presides over the event). Yik's buddy, Turbo (Edison Chen), is considered a weakling but stands by his friend to help him with the job. Meanwhile, triad kingpin Hung (Andy Lau) has just had a baby (his wife is played by Wu Chien-Lien, a welcome return for an actress previously dropped into the "where is she now?" file). He holes up in a restaurant with Lefty (Jackie Cheung), his deputy, while his men try and round up the hit man and punish his other deputies, who most likely ordered the hit in the first place.

JIANG HU cuts back and forth between the killers and their intended victim. The Shawn Yue/Edison Chen scenes cover a lot of territory in Hong Kong after dark, as they visit prostitutes, try and buy a gun, and encounter both police and other gangsters who try and stop them. The Andy Lau/Jackie Cheung scenes on the other hand are basically MY DINNER WITH ANDY. Course after course, they debate back and forth, playing a verbal chess game, while outside, events the two have set in motion unfold.

The end comes sooner than I expected, and for once, it came as a complete surprise. I'm the sort of person who figures out twist endings early (like, within the first minute of THE SIXTH SENSE). To still surprise people like me, some movies resort to ridiculous twists that are not foreshadowed or believable, and leave you feeling more cheated than anything else. JIANG HU had an ending that was both surprising and satisfying.

The acting is very good throughout, with special kudos going to Edison Chen, whose colorful "kid brother" type character keeps his scenes lively in the face of Shawn Yue's mostly expressionless, narrowly focused, and single-minded performance.

So in-your-face it is more prominent than many of the characters is the direction. MTV-style comes to mind, alas, if only music videos were half this creative these days. Cinema is primarily a visual medium, to watch Wong Ching-Po exploit this to the hilt is quite enjoyable. A couple standout scenes are the green-hair "rave" mentioned above and a rain soaked gang fight later in the film. He also tries some creative "low-tech" techniques: at one point during their dinner, as their conversation comes to the boiling point, the whole table seems to become unmoored from the floor and moves uneasily back and forth, the background spinning behind the actors. Costumes are gorgeous throughout, especially Jackie Cheung's almost pirate-like outfit.

JIANG HU marks the real beginning of a new director's promising career. It will be worth seeing what he does next.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on January 18, 2005.

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