Film & DVD Review
Triad leader Hung (Andy Lau) wants to leave the truad world, but leaving means death. News comes that someone has hired an assassin to kill Hung within the next 12 hours. Hung's best friend Left Hand (Jacky Cheung) decides to dig the assassin out. Green triad member Wing (Shawn Yue) has been selected to be the assassin, his best friend Turbo (Edison Chen) pledges to go with him. When the assassination starts, the 4 destinies entwine...
The first time I heard anything about Jiang Hu was on a news update on the MonkeyPeaches website. The little news article gave nothing more than a few of the cast members and a brief plot synopsis. Not knowing anything else about the film I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was going to be a remake of Dante Lam's excellent Jiang Hu ~ "The Traid Zone". For starters the films' names are very similar, and secondly their synopsi (or whatever the plurar of 'synopsis' is) were also alarmingly similar.
After his wife gives birth to his son, triad leader Hung (Andy Lau) wants to leave the triad world, but knows that a gang war would likely erupt with his vacancy. He quickly learns that there is going to be an attempt on his life within the next 12 hours. He does not know who the would be assassin is, nor who hired him. With his best friend Left Hand (Jacky Cheung), he tries to figure out who is behind the plot and weed out the killer before it is too late.
If you are unfamiliar with the plot of Jiang Hu ~ "The Traid Zone" here it is: "The word is out on the streets, someone will assassinate underwolrd kingpin Jimmy Yam in the next 24 hours. Jimmy is bold and daring, he gets a chance to see the people around him as wo they really are: his wife Sophie, his consiglierie Wai, his bodyguard Yue, his mistress Jo Jo, his rival Si, a rising gangster Tiger and a loyal man who is in jail for him." So tell me, does that sound just a little similar? Despite having these remarkabley similar storylines, Jiang Hu is not a remake of Jiang Hu ~ "The Traid Zone". In fact upon watching the film it is obvious that there very little in the way of similarites between the two. So this is where comparisons between the two will end.
Along with the story of the triad leader Hung, there is a parallel story from the point of view of would be killer Yik (Shawn Yue) and his best friend, a fellow triad member, Turbo (Edison Chen). Not long after meeting Yik it becomes clear he is a bit of a nasty piece of work, as he glasses someone with an ash tray repeatedly after he pissed him off. This story follows them as they try to acquire a decent weapon to carry out the killing with, and as they try to establish themselves as respected triad members.
Much of the attention that came towards Jiang Hu before it was released was due to a cut that had to made to the film to get passed the censors. Now the section that had to be cut involved Edison Chen, one of the current big pop stars in Hong Kong. With his reputation and undoubted thousand upon thousand of adoring fans, hearing about what took place in the scene came as quite a surprise. When I found out what it was, I was amazed that he would risk tarnishing his reputation, but if he wanted to shag a dog then that was his choice. Yes that is right, shag a dog. The scene that was cut was allegedly Edison Chen shagging a dog. Now before anyone gets any ideas, it was for a film so he wouldn't really have been shagging it, I assume it would have been simulated. I bet you can see now why I was surprised! Like everything though, with the description of what was cut reported on its own, without the context of the rest of the scene, the reasons behind it can be misjudged. When you see the scene in the film, it quickly becomes clear that it wasn't done for pleasure purposes!
Enough of the controversy surrounding the film, and more on the actual film itself. There is no qualms about it, Jiang Hu tries very, very hard to be a hyper-stylish film. The look of every scene, the clothes that are worn, the camera angles and film techniques are all there to make the film appear more stylish. In some places this works well, as the clothes do look pretty sharp, some camera angles, the slow motion all add to the overall style of the film, but in other places I feel that it did not work at all.
Towards the end of the film Hung and Left Hand are having a very important conversation regarding things that have, are and will take place. There is a hint of tension between the two in the scene as they try to resolve matters between themselves peacefully. The camera angle is generally at around table height, and looking at either of the two, either from front on or from the side of the centre of the table. What makes this scene very notable is that while the camera is fixed on either Jacky Cheung or Andy Lau, the background of the restaurant is moving. So either the restaurant is moving around the table, or the table is moving inside the restaurant. When I first saw this happening I thought "What the hell is going on?!", as I had no idea what was happening, and in truth I still don't understand why everything was moving. I guess it was meant to be some sort of symbolism representing the tension between the two, or something like that, and was there as another stylish effect. I thought it fell flatter than a pancake. I didn't understand what the point of it was, it certainly added nothing to the scene and maybe served only to deliver a slight bit of motion sickness in the viewer.
Clocking in at a mere 86 minutes in duration, I would have thought there would have been very little to complain about with pacing issues, yet somehow the film still seemed to drag in places. I don't know whether there was just too much talking in the scenes, but it felt as though the film could have achieved just as much with removing ten or so minutes from the running time. One of the scenes that dragged for me was the motion sickness dinner table scene, but there were also a couple of scenes involving Shawn Yue. This could also be due to Shawn Yue's acting being as wooden as a really, really wooden thing. That's right, that wooden. He was dead-pan and quite boring in Infernal Affairs II, and he is no different here. He posses maybe two facial expressions, but still decides to keep one of them hidden for the majority of the film.
Luckily everyone else can act better than he can. His counterpart Edison Chen is beginning to grow on me a little. He is becoming less of an annoying Canto-pop star now, but still has a little bit to go before I look at him as a credible actor. Maybe that is why he agreed to have a dog shagging scene... Anyway, he pulls of an OK performance as the rather cocky triad member Turbo. On the other side of things is Jacky Cheung. For some reason this is the first Jacky Cheung film I've seen in a long time, and as such it was quite refershing to see him on film again, especially in such a recent flick. He's the outgoing, loud and confident, yet at times a little psychopathic, Left Hand. From the way Jacky Cheung smiles combined with his body mannerisms, the confidence in his character is clear to see. He's equally convincing as the ruthless triad and as the caring friend. Lastly there is Andy Lau, who despite being over 40 years old now, still manages to look the same as he did in films made about ten years ago. His acting here is good enough, although possibly relying on his smile just a little too much!
At its conclusion, Jiang Hu is little more than a lot of style over rather little susbstance. The film isn't as engaging as it should have been, nor is it as interesting. The love story between Yik and the whore Yoyo is not in the slightest bit believable, and the rest of the film is nothing more than very average. This is remedied only slightly by the ending, which I freely admit caught me by surprise. It may have most of the actors from the Infernal Affairs films, but Jiang Hu is no where near as good.
Audio & Subtitles
Maybe I've been hyped up too much on the plus points of DTS audio tracks that I expect to be blown away whenever I listen to one. That has certainly not been the case with any I've listened to recently, and that trend has continued with Jiang Hu. Now I'm not saying that the DTS track on this DVD is bad, but I don't think it contains anything that a DD5.1 track couldn't do. As far as this DTS track goes though, the audio does sound good. Everything is crisp and clear, from the small noises like glasses on tables to the sound of the rain falling. The surrounds are used effectively when needed.
The subtitles score very well, as the spelling was excellent containing no spelling errors (that I noticed), but there was the odd error in the grammar.
For such a recent flick I was surprised to see any speckles or dirt on the anamorphic print, but there was some. Granted not much, but definitely some. Detail levels were quite high, but with a noticable amount of grain at times. Colours are well saturated and bold throughout, and there is a good amount of shadow detail. Not an amazing print, but definitely above average.
DVD & Extras
On this 2 disc edition, the extras are spread over both discs. On the film disc you have the obligatory trailer and the Data Bank. The Data Bank contains the film's synopsis and also info on the Cast and Crew, but both these are in Chinese only. Disc 2 contains the wealth of the extras. First up there is a 3 minute Making Of. At only 3 minutes in duration, it doesn't exactly cover many aspects of the making of the fim. Then there are the interviews, of which there are plenty. Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Shawn Yue, Edison Chen, Lin Yuah, Eric Tsang, Wu Chien Lien, Lam Ka Tung, Xiao Hai and Gao Lei are all interviewed, but alll are in Chinese with no English subtitles. Next up are 4 deleted scenes, again without English subtitles, then a photo gallery and an extra entitled Story Of Posters. This one clocks in at 3 minutes 30 seconds and gives info about the posters for the film, but again in Chinese only. Lastly there is the Massacre. This is a 6 minute 40 second extended version to the end fight in the film. There is a decent amount of extras here, but alas they are only accessible to people who can speak and/or read Chinese.
If there ever was a film that wanted to be just so stylish and cool, it is Jiang Hu. The look of the film, even the packaging to the DVD, is sleek and stylish. Unfortunately that is most of what the film is, seriously suffering from style over substance. There are good scenes and ideas contained in the short running time but there are used to their potential, resulting in a film that is nothing more than average.
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