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Monday, April 9, 2012

HAK GAM / ISLAND OF GREED (1997)

Stateside followers of Asian actors like Andy Lau & Tony Leung Ka Fai (not to be confused with Tony Leung Chiu Wai) naturally associate them with the small percentage of their work that finds U.S. distribution. But with well over 100 titles for each, baskets of local product (mostly Taiwanese/Hong Kong) never gets over here. At least, not on legit DVDs with intelligible English subtitles. This one, from the brothers Mak, producer Johnny & megger Michael, helps fill the gap, but with a truckload of empty action calories. There seems to be a decent budget on it, but this typical actioner remains disposable stuff, loaded with guns & broads, explosions, flying attacks & lots of ‘yuck-yuck’ comic relief. In fact, it’s sillier than it has to be since the basic story of gangs & political corruption reaching all the way to the top of the Taiwanese police & government isn’t so far-fetched. (Just at the moment, it’s a big story over in Mainland China.) In this one, Leung is the fast-rising mob man who's running for political office while Lau plays the incorruptible investigator. They're both fine, but the Maks can’t be bothered to put two and two together for a readable action sequence. They’d rather just throw disconnected shots of mayhem around. (There is, however, one inspired bit involving hundreds of guard dogs running thru acres of cultivated farm land.) Still, the levels of destruction are impressive and the film is never less than watchable even if the actual DVD transfer isn’t as good as it might be. All told, a bit of a waste considering the production values and story potential. The Mak Brothers haven’t made a pic since.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Tony Leung Ka Fai gets a lot more out of similar situations in ELECTION/’05 and Andy Lau, though best known over here for historical epics, really shows his stuff in INFERNAL AFFAIRS/’02, a tightly plotted Cop vs Mob tale that Martin Scorsese puffed up into THE DEPARTED/’06.

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