In their fourth outing, it’s pretty much more of the same from the Young and Dangerous clan. Fans of the continuing series will still find a lot to enjoy in Young and Dangerous 4 (1997), but this is probably the weakest of the main series and doesn’t really offer anything new other than introducing some welcome characters to the franchise.
This time we find our Hung Hing boys getting involved in a local war between Triad branches. The film begins with the marriage of Yee (Michael Tse) to KK (Pinky Cheung), sister of The Legendary Tai Fei (Anthony Wong).
We then move on to Thailand where the Branch Leaders are looking to meet with Mr Chiang (Alex Man), brother to Boss Chiang from the first three instalments. They are looking for Chiang to take over as Hung Hing leader now that the seat is vacant after the murder of his brother.
During this we see the murder of Dinosaur (Michael Lam), head of the Tuen Mun district, which causes a power struggle for leadership of the area. Chicken (Jordan Chan) looks to become the new branch leader, even though he is warned off by best friend Chan Ho Nam (Ekin Cheng), who tells him that being a branch leader isn’t all that it has cracked up to be. Chicken comes up against the evil Yiu-Yeung, played by a returning Roy Cheung now as a different character than what he played in part 3.
Yiu-Yeung who murdered Dinosaur looks to start a riot by secretly appointing Tuen Mun Triad Barbarian (Chan Chi-Fai) as new Branch leader. Barbarian is too stupid to realise that he is being used by the treacherous Yiu-Yeung, with his new plan of leadership going on to involve extreme violence, murder and rape. So a fun time for all it would seem.
In addition to this we have Chan Ho-Nam being deeply depressed over the death of Smartie (Gigi Lai). Luckily he ends up meeting the beautiful Yan Yan (Michelle Reis), who helps him somehow get over his depression. Lucky Bastard.
Andrew Lau is once again on directing duties and brings his usual style to the proceedings, with his trademark use of hand held camera’s being very much in play. His use of hand held camera was slightly less frenetic in part 3, but is back in full force this time round. As usual for the Young and Dangerous series, Lau doubles up as the films cinematographer once again, giving the film a professional look that betrays the films low budget.
Pretty much everyone still alive from the previous films in the series make an appearance in Young and Dangerous 4, even though some of them are limited to little more than a cameo appearance such as Anthony Wong.
Ekin Cheng has now become synonymous with the role of Chan Ho Nam, with it fitting him like a glove. He does solid work here but his moping can be a bit much at times, although it is par for the course considering what he was put through previously. Jordan Chan as Chicken is as equally good, but like Cheng, by this point in the franchise it’s no surprise, with the series not offering them anything new to do, other than some emotional scenes when a particular member of the gang gets killed.
The usual underwritten members of the gang, Jerry Lamb, Jason Chu and Michael Tse also return. Of the three only Michael Tse seems to get more than usual to do, although this would prove to be the last film in the main series that he would appear in.
Roy Cheung is his usual evil and excellent self, but you have to feel bad for him returning time and again to this series always as a different character and always as a villain. Still you can’t blame the producers for wanting him when he plays the bad guy so well.
Also returning from part is Karen Mok as Wasabi although she doesn’t get as much to do this time round, with her character busy teaching high school, although it is through her character we are introduced to Yan Yan.
There are some new additions to the franchise, with the underrated Alex Man taking over where Simon Yam left off as the new leader of the Hung Hing. Although a fairly limited role, Man is still great in the film with this just being another in a long line of great supporting roles.
Man has acted in nearly 100 films, which doesn’t even include his work in television, where he began his acting career. His first film was in Ann Hui’s drama The Secret (1979), acting alongside the great Sylvia Chang. From this his film roles would only get better with him going on to play a Teacher in The Daring Age (1981) an ordinary drama from director Richard Yuen that gave Man one of his first leading roles.
Like so many other Hong Kong actors of the early eighties, he would go on to work for Shaw Brothers studios, acting in such films as Avengers from Hell (1981), Buddha’s Palm (1982) and Bastard Swordsman (1983).
During this time he would also co-star in director Po-Chih Leong’s excellent World War 2 set drama Hong Kong 1941 (1984). Produced by Sammo Hung’s two companies D & B Films and Bo Ho Films, Hong Kong 1941 is also memorable for an early lead performance from future superstar Chow Yun Fat. Filled with excellent performances, Hong Kong 1941 is an excellent drama that shows the true horror of war and should be better known in the West. It is also probably the best film to come from director Po-Chih Leong, as more recently he has mainly worked in the Hollywood DTV market, churning out bottom of the barrel stinkers like Out of Reach (2004) and The Detonator (2006).
Man would go on to continue working for Shaw Brothers in some of their later works before they disbanded their film making arm. He can be seen in such films as New Tales of the Flying Fox (1984), Return of the Bastard Swordsman (1984) and Journey of the Doomed (1985). None of these could exactly be classed as Shaw Brothers best output, although Journey of the Doomed has its charms with some excellent action scenes, and a rare leading role for famed action choreographer Tung Wai.
Moving into the mid eighties Man would move away from the Shaw Brothers style of films, moving into gangster themed thriller. After the success of A Better Tomorrow (1986), many Hong productions looked to emulate its success. Man would end up starring in some of the better entries in the genre with films like Rich and Famous (1987), which saw him once again working alongside Chow Yun Fat. He would also star in its sequel, the better realised Tragic Hero (1987) before going on to appear in one of his best films of the 1980’s, Wong Kar Wai’s first feature as director As Tears Go By (1988).
As the 1990’s came, Man found himself starring in similar fare with films like Gangland Odyssey (1990), acting with Chan Wai Man and Andy Lau and then again with Andy Lau in Casino Tycoon (1992) and its sequel.
During this period Man found himself acting in some B grade productions such as Challenge of the Gambler (1992) and He-Born to Kill (1993). Luckily he still had quality films such as the hard to find The Trail (1993) and the Young and Dangerous films to fall back on. After appearing in the last entry of the Young and Dangerous series, Born to be King (2000) Man seemed to take a rest from Hong Kong film work.
Man would return in 2010, making small appearances in The Jade and the Pearl (2010), which had him once again working for Shaw Brothers and then the Bruce Lee biography Bruce Lee, My Brother (2010) which was coincidentally co-directed by Young and Dangerous series writer/producer Manfred Wong.
Man would end up returning to the Young and Dangerous series, acting as Mr Chiang once again in Young and Dangerous: Reloaded (2013), which was a reboot of the series.
Man recently announced that he would be retiring from acting when he turns 60. One of the reasons Man gave was due to his diabetes and how difficult it was getting for him to physically work in front of the camera.
One of the best new additions to the series is Sandra Ng as Sister Thirteen. She only gets limited screen time in this entry, but she makes an impression. So much so that her character ended up in her own spin off, Portland Street Blues (1998), which also turned out to be one of the best films in the series.
Like Alex Man, Ng is a veteran of the Hong Kong film business. Originally starting off in various television shows before moving into film work in the mid 1980’s, she can be spotted in mainly small roles in films like Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985), Peking Opera Blues (1986) and Happy Bigamist (1987).
Ng would move onto larger roles, showing a real talent for comedy in The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988), Operation Pink Squad (1988) and the Crazy Companies (1988). Each of these films would also be followed by a host of sequels.
Moving into the 1990’s Ng would co-star in a number of Chow Sing Chi films. The most notable of these are All for the Winner (1990), The Magnificent Scoundrels (1991), Royal Tramp (1992) and its sequel amongst others.
During this time she would also find time to act in the All for the Winner spin off The Top Bet (1991) as well as Gameboy Kids (1992), a truly crazy Andy Lau comedy that shouldn’t be missed.
Moving away from comedy she would again work with Andy Lau and Young and Dangerous 4 co-star Alex Man on Casino Tycoon and it sequel. Casino Tycoon also saw her working for Royal Tramp director Wong Jing once again.
Continuing with more dramatic roles she would also act alongside Tony Chiu-Wai and Ng Sin-Lin in The Returning (1994), an enjoyable supernatural thriller form director Jacob Cheung. In the same year as the returning she would co-star with the other Tony Leung, Tony Leung Ka-Fai in the gambling comedy Always be the Winners (1994). Unfortunately this is one of the poorer attempts to cash in on the gambling comedy craze that came after the release of God of Gamblers (1989).
In 1996, Ng would work on the art house movie 4 Faces of Eve (1996) which showcases some of her best acting. Offering 4 short stories with Ng in each of them, it gives her a chance to show her full range of acting talent. It is a pity that the rest of the film can’t match its leading star, as the overall product comes across as pretentious and overly “arty”, with it looking like a poor attempt to ape the style of director Wong Kar Wai.
The following year she would begin her association with the Young and Dangerous series. As well as starring in part 4 and the afore mentioned Portland Street Blues, she would return as Sister 13 in Young and Dangerous 5, Young and Dangerous: The Prequel (1998), Those Were the Days (2000) and Born to be King (2000).
Staying in the Triad genre she would once again work with her Always be the Winners co-star Tony Leung Ka-Fai in Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone (2000), luckily with a lot more success. Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone would turn out to be one of director Dante Lam’s best films of this period, which is unfortunately overshadowed by the better known Beast Cops (1998).
As Ng progressed into the 2000’s she would continue with comedy roles, some better than others. She would once again star with Andy Lau in the enjoyable romantic comedy Dance of a Dream (2001) from director Andrew Lau.
The following year she would headline Golden Chicken (2002), which turned out be a smash hit at the box office. Ng is terrific in the role of Kam, a prostitute with a heart of gold. Although the film is slightly overrated, Ng’s excellent performance can’t be ignored. She would return to the role in Golden Chicken 2 (2003) which takes her character in unexpected directions and is some ways better than the original.
She would follow these smash hits with smaller roles in Perhaps Love (2005), a musical from director Peter Chan, McDull, The Alumni (2006), a nonsensical live action/animated hybrid and Men Suddenly in Black 2 (2006) a belated sequel to the earlier hit comedy.
Ng would round out the decade by headlining All’s Well End’s Well 2009 (2009) from director Vincent Kok and producer Raymond Wong. Acting alongside Louis Koo and Ronald Cheng, Ng would turn out to the best thing in the movie, once again proving her comedy skills. She would re-team with Louis Koo in the same year’s On His Majesty’s Secret Service (2009), one of director Wong Jing’s lesser films, although it is highlighted by a great lead performance from Louis Koo.
Ng would round out the decade by co-starring once again with Louis Koo and Ronald Cheng in All’s Well End’s Well 2010 (2010), which turned out to be a much better entry than the previous years. There would also be a brief appearance in Jeff Lau’s enjoyable comedy fantasy Just Another Pandora’s Box (2010).
As 2011 came around Ng would stay in comedy mode, again with Louis Koo in Mr and Mrs Incredible (2011) from director Vincent Kok and producer Raymond Wong. Featuring good performances from its two leads, the film is let down by some poor action scenes and an uncertain pace.
Once again she would find herself co-starring in the All’s Well End’s Well series with All’s Well That End’s Well 2012 (2012), which is just more of the same just with the added bonus of Donnie Yen, although Ng is her usual excellent self, unafraid to make a fool of herself for a laugh.
The following year it would be back to Wong Jing territory for Ng, starring in one of Jing’s better recent films Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters (2013). Featuring excellent comedic performances from not only Sandra Ng but Eric Tsang , Ronald Cheng, Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah and with decent action scenes, Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters has enough to recommend it to Hong Kong cinema fans.
As well as starring in lunar New Year comedy Hello Babies (2014), once again directed by Vincent Kok and produced by Raymond Wong, Ng would return to her famous role of Kam the prostitute in Golden Chickensss (2014). As well as doing her usual great work in front of the camera, Ng also produced the film, with it looking like she involved most of the actors that she has worked with in the past as the film features roles from Eason Chan, Louis Koo, Ronald Cheng, Anthony Wong, Chapman To and many others. Although not the best of the series, Golden Chickensss is still a fun comedy that fans shouldn’t miss.
Ng would stick with the Golden Chicken formula with 12 Golden Ducks (2015), although this time she gives it quite a twist with her playing a male character. The film unfortunately doesn’t have the same enjoyment factor as any of the Golden Chicken films, although parts of the film are hilarious especially seeing Ng playing a man. It isn’t a real stretch for Ng considering how butch she played Sister 13 in the Young and Dangerous series.
Most recently Ng had a supporting role in the depressing Lost and Love (2015) as well as the smash hit Monster Hunt (2015), which at the time of its release was the highest grossing Chinese film in history. No surprise a sequel is due for release in 2017.
The other two female additions to the cast are Michelle Reis and Pinky Cheung although they don’t really add much to the film, with the both of them being hired for their looks. Neither one could be mistaken for being a great actress although both are beautiful looking women.
Reis has at least starred in some Hong Kong classics in her career, with films such as Swordsman 2 (1992), Fong Sai Yuk (1993) and Fallen Angels (1995) amongst others.
Piny Cheung hasn’t been as lucky with her work. Although there is the odd good film in her filmography like Young and Dangerous 4 or Paramount Motel (2000), the majority of her films consist of titles like Raped by an Angel 3: Sexual Fantasy of the Chief Executive (1998), Erotic Nightmare (1999) and Brush Up My Sisters (2003).
Once again Manfred Wong returns as sole producer and also writes the screenplay. Young and Dangerous 4 is a bit of a step down from the stellar work that he carried out in the third part of the series. The script does its job, but as mentioned earlier this is probably the weakest of the series and doesn’t offer anything new.
Although each film in the series contains violent scenes, they are still not primarily action films. What action scenes that are in the films is always well done, with the previous films action being choreographed by the terrific Dion Lam. Lam doesn’t return for the fourth part, with the equally great Nicky Li taking over action directing duties. Young and Dangerous 4 doesn’t give Li as much of a chance to show off his skills although fans of the series should be happy with what action there is.
Li was a member of the Jackie Chan Stuntman Association and used to be its leader. He has been working behind and in front of the camera since the latter half of the 1980’s, with him starting out by working on the Jackie Chan films Project A 2 (1987) and Dragons Forever (1988) as a stuntman.
He would go on to be one of the action directors on Queen’s High (1991), working with fellow action directors Rocky Lai, Poon Cheung and Lee Gin-Hing. Released in some areas as part of the In the Line of Duty series, Queen’s High doesn’t have a great deal to recommend other than its fantastic action scenes.
Young and Dangerous 4 was not the first time that Li had worked with director Andrew Lau, with him working as action director on Raped by an Angel (1993), although that film doesn’t make the most of his skills. He would stay in Category 3 territory, working as action director on The Underground Banker (1994), an especially violent and fun crime thriller. Working along with action director Bruce Law, the action in The Underground Banker isn’t as elaborate as his later work, but it serves its purpose.
The next year he would work with Hon Chun as action director on Red Zone (1995), which isn’t exactly the greatest example of Hong Kong action cinema, with their only being a few well choreographed action scenes throughout.
Li would go on to work on higher profile films, starting with his association with the Young and Dangerous series. As well as working as action director on part 4 he would return to work in the same capacity on Young and Dangerous 5 and Young and Dangerous: The Prequel.
Li would also continue to work with Jackie Chan, assisting in the action directing of Drunken Master 2 (1994) and Rumble in the Bronx (1995). He would also later on in the decade return to assist with Who Am I? (1998) and Gorgeous (1999) then into the 2000’s he would once again work with Chan on the poor The Medallion (2003).
During this time he would work with director Benny Chan for the first time, being action director on the smash hit Gen-X-Cops (1999). Gen-X-Cops would be the first film to show Nicky Li’s talent as an action director at its fullest. He would follow this up the next year with the inferior sequel, Gen-Y-Cops (2000), although Li’s work behind the camera can’t be faulted.
In addition to the Gen-X-Cops series, he would work on one of my personal favourites, the underrated A War Named Desire (2000). Featuring excellent performances from Francis Ng and Gigi Leung and excellent action scenes, A War Named Desire is a film every Hong Kong film fan should see.
Going into the 2000’s, Li would work as action director on Ringo Lam’s lightweight caper Looking for Mister Perfect (2003). It wouldn’t be long before he would once again be working with Jackie Chan, this time creating excellent action scenes on New Police Story (2004). Working with the Jackie Chan Stuntmen Association, New Police Story proved to be a return to form for star Jackie Chan. It also had him working again with director Benny Chan.
Li would go on to work with Benny Chan on his crime thriller Divergence (2005), although it doesn’t have the same level of action as the previous films they collaborated on. He would make up for this with their next movie, the Jackie Chan starring Rob-B-Hood (2006), which saw him once again working alongside the Jackie Chan Stuntmen Association.
In the same year he would be main action director on Fatal Contact (2006), which would team him up with martial artist Wu Jing for the first time. The fight scenes in Fatal Contact are first class, with Wu Jing taking on a number of opponents throughout. It is just a pity that the dramatic scenes don’t match the quality of the action, although comedian Ronald Cheng puts in a great supporting turn and also proves quite adept during his few fight scenes.
More work with Benny Chan was to follow, with Li being the main action director on Invisible Target (2007). Feeling more like an unofficial part of the Gen-X-Cops series, Invisible Target features a host of excellent action scenes, and would turn out to be one of director Benny Chan’s most enjoyable films.
During all this he managed to fit in the lower key Benny Chan film Connected (2008), a Hong Kong remake of the movie Cellular (2004). Featuring more car stunts than actual fight scenes, Connected still has enough action to keep fans happy and is one remake that actually turns out better than the original.
After his work on Invisible Target, Li would continue his association with Wu Jing, by being action director on the film Legendary Assassin (2008), which he also co-directed with Wu Jing.
Li would again work with Fatal Contact director Dennis Law on the sub-par Fatal Move (2008). As well as once again starring Wu Jing it also had featured roles for Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Ken Lo, Danny Lee and Young & Dangerous 4 co-star Pinky Cheung.
On paper the film would seem a great prospect, monopolising on the recent success of S.P.L. (2005) by teaming up Wu Jing and Sammo Hung once again. The main issue is that Dennis Law is not an accomplished director and no matter how much good work Nicky Li puts in on the action, it can’t rise Fatal Move above mediocre.
Luckily Li would go on to work on Johnnie To’s terrific Vengeance (2009), which showcased once again that he could choreograph gunplay as well as fight scenes.
City Under Siege (2010) came next which was yet again directed by Benny Chan and had him working with fellow action director Ma Yuk-Sing. Not exactly the best film to come from Benny Chan, with an inconsistent tone and poor special effects, it still has enough going for it to recommend for at least one viewing with Wu Jing’s role being a definite highlight.
Wind Blast (2010) was to follow in the same year, a mainland china production which featured excellent action scenes but an incoherent story, with Wu Jing once again relegated to a supporting role.
Unfortunately, Fatal Move wouldn’t be the last Dennis Law film to feature the work of Li as he would carry out in 2010 action directing duties on Bad Blood (2010) and the terrible Vampire Warriors (2010) which even Li’s excellent choreography can’t save.
Li would go on to assist in the action directing on Shaolin (2011), yet again working with director Benny Chan. As well as working along with action directors Yuen Kwai and Yuen Tak, Shaolin also found Li working with Jackie Chan once again and featured Wu Jing in another supporting role.
Towards the end of the year, Li contributed excellent work to director Wong Ching-Po’s excellent sci-fi action movie Let’s Go! (2011). Although evidently made on a tight budget, Let’s Go! has everything fans of Hong Kong cinema would look for and is undeserving of some of the poor reviews it garnered upon release. It’s also recommended for older fans of Hong Kong cinema as it features roles for past stars like Chin Siu-Ho and Chung Fat.
One of his higher profile films recently has been The Bullet Vanishes (2012), an enjoyable action thriller with great production values and exciting action scenes. It is only let down by its evident attempt to emulate Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009). Sadly he didn’t return for the superior sequel The Vanished Murderer (2015), with Kenji Tanigaki taking over for the absent Li.
Li would go back to martial arts territory the following year with Ip Man: Final Fight (2013). Coming from director Herman Yau, Ip Man: Final Fight turned out to be one of the best films to feature the Ip Man character. The fight scenes choreographed by Li and Sin Kwok-Lam play a large part in this success of the film, with them serving the plot and not just there for the sake of an action scene.
Once again Benny Chan would require Li’s services for his Heroic Bloodshed homage The White Storm (2013). Although the film could have been better, with it not being up to the standards of other Benny Chan films, the action involved is terrific and is on a suitably large scale with numerous shootouts and explosions. To date this is the last Benny Chan film Li has worked on.
At the tail end of that year he would work on the Constable (2013), another Dennis Law film. The Constable surprisingly turned out half decent, with a great lead performance from Simon Yam and good production values. It still has the same issues other Dennis Law films have but not to the extent of something like Vampire Warriors.
Coming of off The Constable, Li would quickly move on to work on Wong Jing’s enjoyable From Vegas to Macau (2014). Working along with action director Jack Wong, From Vegas to Macau is not as action heavy as its sequel, although it features enough action to keep fans happy.
2015 found Li back with Wu Jing with different results. He would start by working on Wolf Warrior (2015), which Jing also directed. Featuring decent action, it is sadly let down by being overly nationalistic. Although it is no more than certain Hollywood films, it is still unneeded.
More successful was the excellent S.P.L. 2: A Time of Consequences (2015), which more than lives up to its predecessor, with only the absence of original star Donnie Yen really being a drawback. Proving that Hong Kong cinema could still compete with films like The Raid (2011) in terms of action, S.P.L. 2 doesn’t disappoint. It is also noteworthy as being the first Chinese produced film to star Thai superstar Tony Jaa as well as giving Wu Jing possibly his best role ever. The terrific Zhang Jin, who Li worked with on From Vegas to Macau also shouldn’t be overlooked, with him getting ample screen time to show off his considerable talents.
Nicky Li’s most recent credit as action director was on director Raymond Yip’s Phantom of the Theatre (2016), which due to the nature of the film doesn’t use Li’s work to its full advantage.