Young and Dangerous

Reviewed by YTSL

As I sit in front of my computer and try to compose a review of this one Hong Kong movie that I watched a few days ago now, I must confess to feeling somewhat intimidated by the task.  This is partly because it was an immensely popular effort which spawned a whole "Triad youth" genre of Hong Kong movie as well as series and at least one official spin-off (More than by the way, "Portland Street Blues" stands so well on its own that this moviephile saw it this summer without quite realizing that it was an offshoot of any other film(s)).  Then there also are the many and divergent reviews and commentaries available on various internet sites and in other sources about that whose Chinese title translates into English as "Wise Guys:  Men of the World".

The following excerpts from just three critiques of YOUNG AND DANGEROUS will give a sense of the range of opinions about this motion picture adaptation of a comic book called "Teddy Boy".  Shelly Kraicer has contended that director "Andrew Lau and [producer] Manfred Wong, I'm now convinced, were aiming at something ambitious:  to give a representation or even a critique of fin-de-siècle Hong Kong society on the verge of 1997."  Meanwhile, Mr. Blue appears equally adamant that:  "While a lot of critics like to blather on incessantly about the parallels between the story and China's takeover of H[ong] K[ong] or how the characters reflect society, I tend to take the Y&D films for what they are pop entertainment.  Sometimes I think film "experts" tend to forget that people watch movies for sheer enjoyment, not for deep philosophical meaning.  And that it (sic.) why I think the Y&D series is so popular -- it's just quite enjoyable to watch these young men, in a sense, grow up in front of us."  Then there's the castigation by JC (on Joseph Fierro's Hong Kong Cinema site) of this 1996 work's having:  "No redeeming value, no moral stories, just a quick fix for someone really bored".
Perhaps after viewing the rest of the films in the set, I will have a different view of this one.  As it is, I must admit to having enjoyed viewing it but not seeing it as being all that socially, culturally, politically or even cinematically significant or special a production.  On the other hand, there is no doubt that it is, in many ways, a very stylish and style-conscious piece.  The high quality of its cinematography comes as little surprise since the overall director of the YOUNG AND DANGEROUS is a respected cinematographer who was the principal cameraman for such as the atmospheric as well as pioneering "Mr. Vampire", Ringo Lam's "City on Fire", Wong Kar Wai's "As Tears Go By" and half of the critically acclaimed -- for its technical as well as narrative creativity -- "Chungking Express".  Then there's what director Lau calls "a new look for the gangsters" which involved the main characters looking expensively dressed and having distinctive hair styles along with generally appearing not unattractive (See Andrew Lau's interview in Miles Wood's "Cine East").
Strange as it may seem, there really might be a certain fascination, and maybe even charm, in watching a group of callow youth strutting around like Peacock Males for a large part of this movie.  To be sure, I must admit to wondering whether Ekin Cheng was primarily picked to be the film's main lead on the basis of his hair, other physical features and ability to be a handsome clotheshorse (Similarly, while Simon Yam has showed (elsewhere) that he CAN act, his part in YOUNG AND DANGEROUS is so small that he really doesn't have to do all that much beside look good; something which he had absolutely no trouble doing!).  On the other hand, Francis Ng, Jordan Chan, Jan Lamb and Ng Chi-Hung would never win any beauty contests; and they also prominently feature in -- and most definitely add to the overall quality of -- the film.
It is also my sense that there are interesting moments and parts which do make this more than an average -- and, if Andrew Lau is to be believed, low budget (Again, this information is from Miles Wood's book) -- effort.  Yes, the stories of the honorable man and his loyal childhood friends are somewhat familiar.  And the dramatic and vividly rendered violent and cruel acts --  which "earned" YOUNG AND DANGEROUS a Category III rating -- don't really shock (that much) because they come with the (depiction of) Triad territory.  But then there's the surprising incorporation as well as simultaneously humorous and gentle treatment of a Christian priest supporting character (ably played by Spencer Lam) and stuttering car thief turned girlfriend of the main man (Gigi Lai makes the woman named Smartie into a convincing, delightful and sympathetic figure).
As it is, I can attest that I was far from disappointed by this much-hyped movie.  And, despite having read quite a bit before hand, there were still intriguing twists and unexpected turns in store when I viewed this lively paced and slickly shot offering.  Consequently, I am indeed looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with Ho Nam (Ekin Cheng), Chicken (Jordan Chan) and the rest of the gang in the sequels to what turned out to be but the first episode of YOUNG AND DANGEROUS.

My rating for the film:  8.