The Young and Dangerous Series and the people behind it: Young and Dangerous - 1996
Starting back in 1996, the Young and Dangerous series went on to spawn numerous sequels and spinoffs, and went on to make stars of Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan and Francis Ng as well as feature a host of Hong Kong movie regulars such as Anthony Wong, Simon Yam and Roy Cheung. It also assisted in making director Andrew Lau one of the Hong Kong film industries’s most sought after directors, going on to direct a number of big budget blockbusters, most famously the Infernal Affairs series (2002-2003). The series was unsuccessfully rebooted with Young and Dangerous: Reloaded (2013).
The main series was based on the popular comic strip Teddy Boy which was created by Dickey Yau and Cowman (Man Kai-Ming), which followed the life and times of Hung Hing Society member Chan Ho Nam and his fellow Triad members. The comic series has proven to be very popular and is still ongoing to this day.
I will try to cover every entry in the series including the spinoffs although a couple of them could be considered unofficial.
Young and Dangerous – 1996
Kicking off in 1985, the film begins by introducing our main characters, Chan Ho Nam, Chicken, Pou Pan, Tai Tin Yee and Chow Pan as teenagers. They all look up to Uncle Bee, one of Hung Hing’s leaders. After they receive a beating by Ugly Kwan (Francis Ng), another Hung Hing member, the young boys decide to join the society, following Uncle Bee.
The film then fast forwards another 10 years to 1995, with Chan Ho Nam, now played by Ekin Cheng, and his friends having grown in stature as Uncle Bee’s right hand man, and proving themselves capable by performing a hit on Ba Bai, the right hand man of Ugly Kwan.
Due to Ho Nam’s continuing ascension up the ranks, Ugly Kwan tries to get Ho Nam to work for him, which Ho Nam refuses. After this Uncle Bee is given an assignment by Chiang Tin Sung (Simon Yam), the Chairman of Hung Hing, to carry out an assassination in Macau. Uncle Bee appoints Ho Nam and his gang to carry out the hit. Kwan decided it is time to get rid of Ho Nam and his gang once and for all and uses the hit as a way to do this by setting him up, which results in the death of Ho Nam’s friend and fellow Triad Chow Pan. From this it is up to Ho Nam to get revenge on Kwan and clear his name.
Young and Dangerous proved to be a very different Hong Kong gangster film than what audiences were perhaps used to, and is a polar opposite from the glossy A Better Tomorrow (1986), which was only a decade before this. Opposed to the gangsters in that film, who all wore Armani suits and used guns, the characters in Young and Dangerous look like what low level Triads should look like, dressed in leather jackets and sporting tattoos. Although there are guns involved they are not the main weapon of choice, with most of the characters preferring knifes. The one thing both the films have in common is the loyalty between the main characters, and how friendship comes before anything else.
A major hit with Hong Kong audiences it was still condemned by certain officials as glorifying the Triad lifestyle, which to some extent it does, but still shows the ugly side that comes with this way of life. Although the film is considerably lighter on action than expected, there are still a high number of violent scenes throughout. The series gets off to a great start, introducing all the main players and the overall look of the series with director Andrew Lau favouring a hand a held camera style which sets the film apart from other Hong Kong thrillers of the time.
Director Andrew Lau had directed a number of films before he got to Young and Dangerous with only the underrated To Live and Die In Tsimshatsui (1994) being a standout. This was also his third film to be produced by Wong Jing, a partnership that has continued with varying success throughout the years, with them most recently collaborating on the From Vegas to Macau series which Lau produced and served as cinematographer. Lau went on to co-direct the last entry, From Vegas to Macau 3 (2016).
Before his work as a director Lau had mainly worked in the film industry as a cinematographer, something he has continued to do in a number of his own films such as A Man Called Hero (1999), Dance of a Dream (2001) and Confession of Pain (2006) as well as carrying out these duties for Wong Jing on the afore mentioned From Vegas to Macau series as well as Jing’s The Last Tycoon (2012).
He started his career as a cinematographer by working for Shaw Brothers, with his first film with them being the classic martial arts movie Legendary Weapons of China (1982). He would go on to work on a number of Hong Kong classics such as City on Fire (1987), As Tears go By (1988) and Wild Search (1989). Even after directing his first film, the Triad drama, Against All (1990) starring a very young Nick Cheung, he would still continue to work as a cinematographer on films such as Lee Rock 1&2 (1991), The Wicked City (1992) and Shogun and Little Kitchen (1992) amongst others. He would work with Wong Kar Wai once more on Chungking Express (1994), being the director of photography on the early sections of the film before Christopher Doyle took over. After Young and Dangerous he would only work as cinematographer on either his own films or Wong Jing productions.
After his initial success with the Young and Dangerous series, Lau would become more prolific and move on to blockbuster film making, directing the fantasy action films Storm Riders (1998), A Man Called Hero (1999) and The Duel (2000) in quick succession. The three films proved to be successes at the box office, and each one of them has a lot to recommend, but due to their use of CGI, have slightly dated. The Storm Warriors (2009), an inferior sequel to Storm Riders was made more recently by the Pang Brothers. It has better special effects than its predecessor but is sadly lacking in everything else that made the original so enjoyable. Both Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok returned to reprise their roles and uncannily hadn’t aged a day since the original.
Other than the Young and Dangerous series, Lau’s most famous work as a director would unarguably be Infernal Affairs (2002) and the films two sequels. Co-directing with Alan Mak, the film received heaps of praise and critical acclaim and went on to win the best film award at the Hong Kong film Awards.
Even though he was making classic cinema like Infernal Affairs, he still wasn’t adverse from turning out the odd stinker. Film like The Wesley’s Mysterious File (2002) really should have been better. Based on the famous literary character Wisely and with a stellar cast including Andy Lau, Rosamund Kwan and Shu Qi, all the ingredients were there for another classic. Wesley’s mysterious file turned out to be a lazy attempt at a Hollywood style sci-fi.
He luckily always manages to come back from these films with another classic, and it wasn’t too long before he again teamed up with Alan Mak, co-directing Confession of Pain (2006), an Infernal Affairs like thriller starring Tony Leung Chi-wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Not as well received or reviewed as Infernal Affairs it is still an effective thriller that has two excellent performances from Tony Leung Chi-wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro.
Andrew Lau hasn’t only stuck to making films in his native Hong Kong, directing the Korean melodrama/thriller Daisy (2006). Beautifully shot, with the film taking place in Holland and three good performances from the leads, Jung Woo Sung, Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Sung-jae, the film is unfortunately bogged down by its overall slow pace. The film is noteworthy for featuring Hong Kong movie legend David Chiang in a rare villainous role.
As an aside, Korean actor Jung Woo-sung is no stranger to appearing in Hong Kong movies, appearing in Poon Man-kit’s Shanghai Grand (1996), then much later acting alongside Michelle Yeoh in Reign of Assassins (2010), co-directed Su Chao-pin and action legend John Woo. Even one of his most recent films, the cop thriller Cold Eyes (2013) is based on an earlier Hong Kong thriller, Eye in the Sky (2007) which was directed by Yau Nai-hoi and produced by Johnnie To.
Lau has also dipped his toes into the Hollywood film industry with the Richard Gere thriller The Flock (2007). Co-starring Claire Danes, The Flock is a well made thriller with a great lead performance from Richard Gere, that unfortunately was made in an almost anonymous way that any director could have carried out. His other Hollywood production, Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014) is possibly the poorest film Lau has made. Co-directing with the similarly named Andrew Loo, Revenge of the Green Dragons shows none of the skill that was evident in his Hong Kong films. What is more surprising is that the film has Martin Scorsese’s name attached as executive producer, probably returning the favour after remaking Infernal Affairs as the Departed (2006).
Between his two Hollywood sojourns Lau managed to turn out a number of enjoyable films, like Look for a Star (2009), teaming him up once again with Andy Lau, then directing Donnie Yen in the over the top action movie Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010), a sequel of sorts to both the Bruce Lee classic Fist of Fury (1972), but also Fist of Legend (1994) which had Jet Li in the role of Chen Zhen. Although not one of Donnie Yen’s best star vehicles, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen has a lot to recommend to Hong Kong movie fans.
One noticeable element of Lau as a director is how his style has changed throughout the years, with his later films like Daisy (2006), Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010) and The Guillotines (2012) being more stylised and far removed from the gritty hand held visuals of his early work such as the Young and Dangerous series.
Ekin Cheng had been working for a number of years, starring in a range of different genre fare be it comedy Boys are Easy (1993), romance with Mermaid Got Married (1994) or action in Return to a Better Tomorrow (1994), which is probably the best of his earlier films. Chan Ho Nam was his first truly memorable role, one which he is still best known for. It is definitely his most popular, with him portraying the character in 8 films as well as playing similar characters in films like Goodbye Mr. Cool (2001) and Heavenly Mission (2006). It could also be argued that Hero Hua in A Man Called Hero is just another variation on the Chan Ho Nam character, sharing a lot of the same values such as righteousness and loyalty.
Cheng has always had a likeable quality which makes up for the fact that he isn’t the best actor around. He certainly has a presence and portrays Chan Ho Nam well, but is sometimes bettered by his somewhat superior co-stars. He would gradually get better as the series progressed, and you only have to compare the remake version of Chan Ho Nam to realise how good Cheng is in the role.
Originally credited under the name Dior Cheng, Cheng has worked on over 70 films in his career, starting with Girls Without Tomorrow 1992 (1992). Throughout his career he would work with directors Wong Jing and Andrew Lau a number of times, with varying degrees of success. He would first work with Wong Jing by making a cameo appearance in Kung Fu Cult Master (1993) before moving on to be one of the main characters in the madcap comedy Boys Are Easy (1993). In the same year he would act in the derided, but actually quite enjoyable Future Cops (1993), unofficially based on the video game Street Fighter.
The following year he would work with Wong Jing again, in the A Better Tomorrow (1986) inspired/rip-off Return To a Better Tomorrow (1994). Unfortunately he was paired up with Lau Ching Wan who manages to act everyone else in the film off the screen. Still, even though it is a rip-off, it is a worthwhile action thriller with a number of great action scenes and the added bonus of Michael Wong being Michael Wong.
It would be 17 years before Ekin Cheng would act in another film directed by Wong Jing, making a cameo appearance in the throwaway Treasure Hunt (2011). They would however still work together as Wong Jing went on to produce the Young and Dangerous series.
In 1995 he acted in his first collaboration with director Andrew Lau, the triad drama The Mean Street Story (1995). The film has a lot of similarities with Young and Dangerous regarding the look of the film, but overall comes across as unnecessary, and is only there as a filler between films. He would continue to work with Andrew Lau throughout the years, not just on the Young and Dangerous films but on The Storm Riders, A Man Called Hero, The Legend of Speed (1999), The Duel, Avenging Fist (2001) and Women from Mars (2002).
As well as starring in a number of other roles throughout the years, Cheng also worked with other big name directors. He worked with Tsui Hark on the ill advised The Legend of Zu (2001), Hark’s belated attempt at a sequel to his cult classic Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (2001).
He also worked with legendary director Johnnie To on two of his admittedly poorer films, Help (2000) and Running Out of Time 2 (2002). To also produced the Jeff Lau directed Second Time Around (2002), which also starred Cheng.
In addition to those, he also worked with director Benny Chan on two of his smaller films (by Benny Chan standards), Heroic Duo (2003) and Divergence (2005). Heroic Duo is the better of the two, with Cheng having a good time being the bad ass cop, shouting at suspects and throwing people around.
Cheng has not been the box office draw that he once was, but is still doing good work, most recently in the excellent period swords-play drama Saving General Yang (2013), which also marked a return for director Ronny Yu after a 7 year absence. He also showed up in the old style Hong Kong comedy Horseplay (2014) from God of Cookery (1996) director Lee Chi-Ngai.
Jordan Chan co-stars as one of the series’ most popular characters, Chicken. With unconventional looks, Chan has to rely more on acting ability. Becoming his signature role, it helped to establish Chan as a leading man. It helps that Chicken is a more interesting character than Chan Ho-Nam, so much that he ended portraying the character in a spin off movie, Those Were the Days (2000), which we will get to later.
Chan started out his career as a dancer. Initially enrolling in 1985 with the TVB Dancers Training Class, he found himself being a background dancer to popular singers such as Leslie Cheung and Roman Tam. He would continue to work as a background dancer until he founded his own music group, Wind, Fire and Ocean. Other members of the group included Michael Tse and Jason Chu.
Chan made his film debut in the Category 3 comedy drama Twentysomething (1994), directed by Teddy Chan. Although not the greatest of films, Chan did manage to garner himself a Best Supporting Actor award as well as a nomination for best newcomer. Coincidentally he was also nominated in the same categories for the film He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994), which he made the same year.
Chan would continue to be nominated for awards, most notably Lee Chi-Ngai’s Heaven Can Wait (1995) and Benny Chan’s Big Bullet (1996). On both occasions he was nominated for best supporting actor although didn’t win. During this time he had a number of starring and co-starring roles including a role in Tung Wai’s excellent gun play movie Fox Hunter (1995), which saw him co-star with Jade Leung and Yu Rong-Guang. He would then begin his association with the Young and Dangerous series, which considering the amount of entries in the series only spanned from 1996 to 2000.
As well as the Young and Dangerous films and other roles, he also co-starred alongside Tony Leung Chu-Wai in Herman Yau’s War of the Underworld (1996). It turned out be an enjoyable rip off of the Young and Dangerous films, although decidedly darker in tone. Unsurprising considering the director.
In the same year he would act alongside Leon Lai in Wong Jing’s reboot of the God of Gamblers series God of Gamblers 3: The Early Years (1996). Chan portrayed the character of Lone Ng, made famous by Charles Heung in the original. Easily stealing the film from Leon Lai, Chan does most of the heavy lifting throughout the film, making it one of the better entries in the God of Gamblers Series.
He would team up once again with Twentysomething director Teddy Chan on the Hollywood style thriller Downtown Torpedoes (1997). Co-starring with Takeshi Kaneshiro and Charlie Young as well as having good production values and excellent action scenes, Downtown Torpedoes still can’t help being a disappointment, with the majority of the characters being underwritten and the plot being almost non-existent.
He would follow this up with Wong Jing’s We’re No Bad Guys (1997), which saw him team up once again with a number of the Young and Dangerous team, notably Ekin Cheng, Wong Jing, Andrew Lau and Manfred Wong. Loosely based on the Aces go Places series, We’re No Bad Guys is an enjoyable enough piece of fluff which considering those involved, could never be mistaken for being a good movie. The film is somewhat saved by co-star Alex Fong who gives the best performance as the main villain.
During 1998 he would work with Sha Po Lang (2005) director Wilson Yip on one of his earlier film, Bio-Zombie (1998), an extremely enjoyable comedy horror hybrid with Chan having good chemistry with his co-star Sam Lee. The film has more in common with the anything goes Hong Kong films of the 1980’s than it does with other films made at the time.
He would also work on two action films in the year. He would co-star with Michael Wong and Shannon Lee in Yuen Kwai’s Enter The Eagles (1998). The film was made as an attempt to try and make Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee, an action star. Featuring excellent action scenes but not much else, the film ends up ultimately being a disappointment and a waste of Jordan Chan.
He would also co-star once again with Ekin Cheng in Jingle Ma’s Hot War (1998). Chan has a better role than he did in Enter the Eagles. Unfortunately everything else that surrounds it is sub-par, with a poor script and some poor acting. Hot War was the first film from director Jingle Ma, who up till that time was a cinematographer. This means that the film at least looks good. The film shares a lot of similarities with Jordan Chan’s earlier star vehicle, Downtown Torpedoes which was also an attempt at a Hollywood style action thriller. Like that film, one of Hot War’s only saving graces is the excellent action scenes which were once again choreographer by Tung Wai.
Just to give himself more work, Chan also found time to star in a television series. Playing the lead role of Wai Siu Bo in TVB’s production of The Duke of Mount Deer (1998). Based on Louis Cha’s famous novel The Deer and the Cauldron, the show ran for 45 episodes. Like most Hong Kong television shows, availability in the West is difficult to non-existent, so I am unable to judge the overall quality of the series as I have only seen a few episodes, although like most Hong Kong shows, looks cheap due to being shot on video. Chan also sung the show’s opening theme tune.
The remainder of the 1990’s were filled up by a number of films beneath Chan’s talent, films like Cop (1999) and Four Chef’s and a Feast (1999). He still managed to fit in the worthwhile thriller Masked Prosecutor (1999), which saw him once again working with director Herman Yau. Starring as Wah, Chan puts in a likeable performance acting alongside Louis Koo, in the title role. The film also features a great supporting turn from legendary stunt performer Blackie Ko as Koo’s Cop father. Sadly the film was overlooked upon release.
Moving into the 2000’s he would continue to put out interesting but not wholly successful films. He would make two films for Milkyway Image, Johnnie To’s Help, which saw him once again co-starring alongside Ekin Cheng. He then starred in Derek Chiu’s Comeuppance (2000), an underrated crime thriller come black comedy with an excellent lead performance from Chan.
Chan would also make the ill advised sequel to Downtown Torpedoes at this time. With the majority of the original cast and crew moving on to better things or being unavailable at the time, Golden Harvest decided to move on with their thematic sequel Skyline Cruisers (2000), with Chan now playing a different character than he did in the first film. The leading role was taken over by Leon Lai, with able support from Sam Lee and Shu Qi. Unfortunately they can’t make up for the films overly silly vibe, with poorly done comic book style action scenes and an underwritten script contributing to a major disappointment. Most surprising is the lack of talent director Wilson Yip shows, considering he would go on to make action classics like Sha Po Lang and Flash Point (2007).
For a number of years he would make a number of films of varying quality. Some of the best of these would be Sleeping with the Dead (2002), an underrated supernatural thriller only let down by some poor special effects work. He would also work again with director Wong Jing with the better than usual Colour of the Truth (2003), one of the first Infernal Affairs clones to be released in that films wake, then on to The Spy Dad (2003), an average spoof of the spy genre.
He would also work once again with director Johnnie To in this period with his small role in the excellent Throwdown (2004), where he plays a sleazy manager. The following year he would once again work for director Andrew Lau on Initial D (2005), an overrated race car drama based on the famous anime of the same name. The film really should have been better due to the talent involved.
Chan would spend the rest of the decade making appearances in worthwhile films such as Wo Hu (2006), a decent Triad thriller from director Marco Mak and Hong Kong Bronx (2008), yet another Triad thriller that is cheap but enjoyable. Both of the films were produced by Wong Jing.
In 2010 he would team up once again with Eking Cheng, starring in Once a Gangster (2010) from director Felix Chong. The film turned out to be a loving homage to Hong Kong gangster movies, with the two stars being not so Young and Dangerous these days. Although the film isn’t the reunion movie hoped for, with the majority of the film being played for laughs, it is still worth seeking out.
Film work has been a bit lighter on the ground this decade, although there have been some bright spots, the best of these being Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013). Although a co-starring role, the film gave him a chance to once again work with director Herman Yau and act alongside Anthony Wong. Ip Man: The Final Fight is actually one of the better films to feature the real life character. It may not feature the same type of action as the more famous Donnie Yen movies but there is a lot to recommend it, with well written characters and an excellent lead performance from Anthony Wong.
Most recently he has once again worked under Johnnie To in his production of the crime thriller Trivisa (2016), set in 1997 before the handover of Hong Kong. With excellent production values, performances and a well written script, Trivisa proved to be one of the best crime thrillers to be released in 2016.
Although the Young and Dangerous cast is mostly made up of male characters, there are still a number of important female characters throughout the series. One of the most prominent roles is Smartie, played by Gigi Lai. Lai puts in a likeable performance and adds some much needed comedy, with her stuttering antics. She also doubles as the love interest of Chan Ho Nam, although initially she is treated pretty poorly by him and his gang.
Lai had been working steadily since the mid to late 1980’s, appearing in small roles in films like United We Stand (1986) and The Family Strike Back (1986) as well as starring in a number of TV drama series. She would go on to larger roles, acting alongside Andy Lau in the violent Triad drama Dragon in Jail (1990), directed by Kent Cheng.
She would follow these up by appearing in a number of films including The Queen of Gamble (1991), Spiritual Trinity (1993) and Secret Signs (1993). She would also work for Wong Jing for the first time in this period, acting alongside Jet Li in Kung Fu Cult Master (1993), then she would go on to act alongside Jacky Cheung and Tony Leung Ka-Fai in To Live and Tsimshatsui, which would see her working with director Andrew Lau two years before Young and Dangerous. During this she also found time to start a second career as a pop singer.
As well as starring in the first three Young and Dangerous films in 1996, she would also co-star in the similar Street of Fury (1996), starring alongside Louis Koo and Elvis Tsui. She would continue her association with Andrew Lau and Wong Jing by co-starring in Till Death Do Us Laugh (1996), a throw away supernatural comedy, which the two of them produced along with Young and Dangerous writer Manfred Wong. Lai would stay in the comedy genre by appearing in All’s Well, Ends Well ’97 (1997), which proved to be one of Chow Sing Chi’s poorer efforts, although there is still fun to be had.
The remainder of the decade saw her acting in a number of poorer efforts, such as Theft Under the Sun (1997), Ninth Happiness (1998) and Haunted Mansion (1998), which was another Wong Jing production. She also starred in Herman Yau’s Troublesome Night 6 (1999), a better than normal entry in the series.
The following decade would turn out to be quite light on film roles for Lai, with her appearing in a number of stinkers at the start of the decade. The worst of these would have to be Raped by an Angel 5: The Final Judgement (2000), and the only slightly better Fist Power (2000), once again produced by Wong Jing. In the same year she did return to the Young and Dangerous series in Born to Be King (2000), playing a different character this time.
She would again work with Ekin Cheng, co-starring in For Bad Boys Only (2000), a poor excuse for an action comedy from director Raymond Yip. Everyone involved should have known better. Lai’s final credited film role was in Team of Miracle: We Will Rock You (2009).
The best performance in the film is delivered by Francis Ng, who chews the scenery as Ugly Kwan, the films main villain. Ng steals every scene he appears in; with his character breaking all types of Triad rules and putting our heroes through the ringer every chance he gets. Unfortunately due to the villainous nature of his character, the audience know Kwan will have his comeuppance by the finale. Luckily Ng proved to be so popular, Ugly Kwan was spun off into his own film, Once Upon a Time in Triad Society (1996), although the version in that film isn’t exactly the same as the version in Young and Dangerous. Ng would return to the main series as Ugly Kwan with Young and Dangerous: The Prequel (1998) and Portland Street Blues (1998).
Before his star making turn in Young and Dangerous, Ng had been working steadily in film and television since the mid 1980’s, with his first film being Midnight Girls (1986), an early directorial effort from Saviour of the Soul (1991) director David Lai. He would follow this up with a small role in Mr. Possessed (1988), which would be his first association with Wong Jing.
During this time he would make appearances in a number of television series and movies. One of the more memorable productions would be the television movie The Last Conflict (1988), directed by Raymond Lee. The film is noteworthy for starring both Chow Sing Chi and Donnie Yen in early roles. It would probably be impossible to get the three of them together these days. One of the main drawbacks of the film is the overall cheap look due to it being shot on video tape, but there are some good performances and decent action scenes to make up for this. He would work again with Chow Sing Chi the following year on the television show The Final Combat (1989).
He would carry on throughout the rest of the 1980’s and the start of the 1990’s appearing in small roles. One of his first leading movie roles would come in the shape of Banana Spirit (1992), a fun but throwaway supernatural comedy from director Lo Kin. The following year he would star as one part of the main villain in Ronny Yu’s classic Bride with White Hair (1993). He would also work again in a small role for Wong Jing in Kung Fu Cult Master, along with Jet Li and Young and Dangerous co-star Gigi Lai.
He would appear in a range of different type of genre fare like Stranger From Hell (1994) and Fake Emperor (1995) before he would play Ugly Kwan. The year Ng made Young and Dangerous proved to be an especially busy year for Ng, with him also starring in Sexy and Dangerous (1996), God of Gamblers 3: The Early Years, Once Upon a Time in Triad Society 1 & 2 (1996), Satan Returns (1996), and Where’s My Gun (1996) amongst others.
Throughout the remainder of the 1990’s, Ng would appear in a number of great Hong Kong films. He would make a small appearance in Benny Chan’s Big Bullet alongside Lau Ching Wan and his Young and Dangerous co-star Jordan Chan. He would later work with Benny Chan again in the popular Gen X Cops (1999) and Heroic Duo (2003).
He would co-star again with Lau Ching Wan in Ringo Lam’s excellent crime thriller Full Alert (1997), which was a return to form for the director after his Hollywood debut with Maximum Risk (1996). Less action packed than expected, the film still features what fans had come to expect from a Ringo Lam film and has two terrific lead performances.
Ng would also continue to work with director Andrew Lau, playing the main villain in A Man Called Hero. After this he would work with director Alan Mak on the sadly overlooked A War Named Desire (2000). The film gave Ng a chance to play the hero for a change, and give one of his better performances. He would work with Mak again on the superior Infernal Affairs 2 (2003), co-directed by Andrew Lau. Ng stars as a crime boss trying to keep order, and is primarily the focus of the film, with him rising to the challenge and once again stealing the film.
This is not to say that all the films Ng acted in at this time were classics, as there were still bottom of the barrel fodder like Raped by an Angel 2: The Uniform Fan (1998), The Group (1998) and Magnificent Team (1998). Even The H.K. Triad (1999), which comes from director Clarence Fok and producer Wong Jing really should have been better, but is let down by the attempts of the film makers to make the film more than the sum of its parts. Clarence Fok could never be considered the best director to emerge from Hong Kong, but he has directed very enjoyable films in the past and since, such as They Came to Rob Hong Kong (1989), The Black Panther Warriors (1993) and Cheap Killers (1998).
During this time he would appear in a number of Milkway Image productions, starting with director Wai Ka-Fai’s Too Many Ways to Be No.1 (1997), which is also noteworthy as being the first film to be produced by Milkyway Image. Produced by Johnnie To and headlined by an excellent performance from Lau Ching Wan, and also featuring roles for Carmen Lee and Elvis Tsui, Too Many Ways to be No. 1 turns out to be a surprising Triad picture unlike any others in the genre. He would work for Milkway Image again in the critically acclaimed The Mission (1999), one of director Johnnie To’s best films of the 1990’s. He is joined by other To regulars such as Simon Yam, Anthony Wong, Roy Cheung and Lam Suet. A semi-sequel to The Mission, Exiled (2006), would follow with the majority of the cast returning as well as an added role for Nick Cheung.
Ng would be nominated for best actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2000 for Wilson Yip’s excellent Cop Soap Opera Bullets Over Summer (1999), an earlier directorial effort from Wilson Yip. Focusing more on character than action, and also featuring a great supporting turn from Louis Koo, Bullets Over Summer should not be missed. Ng sadly lost out on the award that year to Andy Lau for his role in Johnnie To’s Running out of Time (1999). He would work again with Wilson Yip in The White Dragon (2004), with Ng portraying a Zatoichi style blind swordsman. Although a decent time waster it pales in comparison to their previous collaboration.
He would get some reconciliation for missing out on best actor award the following year by winning best supporting actor for Gordon Chan’s 2000 AD (2000). Unfortunately the rest of 2000 AD can’t match up to Ng’s performance, and although decent, somewhat wastes the rest of its cast especially Daniel Wu and Ray Liu in thankless supporting roles.
He would continue to put out sterling work throughout the remainder of the decade, especially with films like Crazy N’ The City (2005), a cop drama led by Eason Chan where Ng plays a mentally disturbed man, and manages to make him the most likeable character in the film. He would also continue his association with Wong Jing like most Hong Kong actors do by starring in the woeful Bullet and Brain (2007). Written by Wong Jing and directed by Keung Kwok-Man, even the star power of Francis Ng, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang and Alex Fong isn’t enough to save it from mediocrity.
Rounding out the 2000’s he would work on a number of decent but not exactly groundbreaking films. One of the better of these is Shamo (2007), from director Soi Cheang Pou-Soi. An extremely guilty pleasure if ever there was one. Based on the Manga, Shamo is based around Ryo Narushima (Shawn Yue), who ends up in prison after murdering his parents. Any other film, it would turn out he is not guilty, but not in Shamo. Whilst in Prison he faces numerous bouts of abuse, both physical and sexual. He ends up being instructed by Ng’s character in how to fight. The film only gets more extreme as it goes on, including multiple sex scenes, bloody martial arts fights and other questionable content. Of interest, director Soi Cheang Pou-Soi worked on Young and Dangerous as a script supervisor.
More recently Ng has once again worked under Wong Jing, in The Last Tycoon (2012), a Chow Yun Fat starring gangster movie that really should have been better. He also returned to his character from the TVB series’ Triumph in the Skies (2003) and Triumph in the Skies 2 (2013), with the film version, simply titled Triumph in the Skies (2015) which saw him once again working for director Wilson Yip.
As well as working as an actor, Ng has on occasion turned his hand to directing. He made his directorial debut with 9413 (1998), an excellent art house style crime drama, with Ng also putting in an excellent performance as a burnt out cop. He would follow this up with his insight into the Hong Kong educational system, What is a Good Teacher (2000). Unfortunately the film is somewhat of a failure compared to his earlier directorial effort. He would then go on to co-direct with Marco Mak the movie Dancing Lion (2007), a major improvement on What is a Good Teacher, and is only really let down by the fact the viewer needs to have some knowledge of Hong Kong culture to get the most from it. He once again teamed with director Marco Mak on the swords-play action film Tracing Shadow (2009). Although Ng has made better films, there are enough decent fight scenes and comedic performances to make most Hong Kong cinema fans happy. For some odd reason Tracing Shadow was released straight to video in most territories.
The remainder of characters are smaller roles and don't get as much chance to shine as the leads. They are made of Hong Kong cinema regulars like Jerry Lamb, who has also worked with director Andrew Lau multiple times including Best of the Best, Legend of Speed and A Man Called Hero. Jason Chu also features and would proceed to play a part in the ensuing sequels. Michael Tse also forms part of the group. Tse is probably best known these days for his role of Laughing Gor in the TVB television series E.U. (2009), itself a sequel to the earlier television show On the First Beat (2007). His character proved so popular he was spun off into his own series, starting with director Herman Yau’s Turning Point (2009) which co-starred two of his Young and Dangerous co-stars, Francis Ng and Anthony Wong. The film worked as a prequel to the television series and was successful enough to spawn its own television show which followed the movie. Lives of Omission (2011) ran for 30 episodes which lead into the movie Turning Point 2 (2011). The movie was once again directed by Herman Yau and featured a supporting role from Francis Ng, confusingly not playing the same character as the first movie. Worse still is that the movie acts as a direct sequel to Lives of Omission instead of Turning Point, which makes the plot increasingly difficult to follow if you are unable to view the preceding series.
Adding a bit of star power to the film, Simon Yam makes a brief appearance as Hung Hing Chairman Chiang Tin Sung. Although his role only amounts to limited screen, Yam is always a welcome presence, and this was only one of nine film roles he would appear in during 1996. There are also a number of other famous faces in small roles such as Chan Wai Man and Big Silly Head himself, Shing Fui On.
As mentioned previously, the film was produced by the prolific Wong Jing. His name should be instantly recognisable to fans of Hong Kong cinema. Most famous for the God of Gamblers series and his numerous comedy films starring Hong Kong superstars such as Chow Sing Chi, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Nick Cheung amongst many others. Anybody that’s anybody in the Hong Kong film industry has at one time worked with Wong Jing.
Jing started of his film career as a script writer, contributing to the scripts for Old Soldiers Never Die (1978) and Cunning Tendency (1978). After a few years he quickly moved onto directing his own films, starting with Challenge of the Gamesters (1981), a gambling movie from Shaw Brothers Studio’s. He would follow this up with the excellent Mercenaries from Hong Kong (1982), a men on a mission action movie starring Ti Lung.
Jing would go on to make a range of different type of genre films throughout the 1980’s, although be it action, horror or sci-fi there is still the usual lowbrow Wong Jing humour. Some of his better films to come out in the 1980’s are Magic Crystal (1986), an early starring vehicle for Andy Lau which also features supporting roles for Western actors Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton. He also created the Crazy Companies series of films which included roles for Stanley Fung, Sandra Ng, Andy Lau, Do Do Cheng, Chingamy Yau, Rosemund Kwan and Shing Fui On.
He would continue to work with Andy Lau to this day, working on a number of films such as Casino Raiders (1989), Crocodile Hunter (1989), God of Gamblers (1989), The Last Blood (1991), Tricky Brains (1991), Casino Tycoon 1 & 2 (1992), A True Mob Story (1998), Prince Charming (1999) and more recently Future X Cops (2010), although the least said about this the better.
He has also been known to work with superstar Chow Sing Chi, mostly on his early film such as the Fight Back to School series, one of which, Fight Back to School 3 (1993), he also directed. Chow also appeared in two of the God of Gamblers series, God of Gamblers 2 (1990) and God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai (1991). Their association would continue with films like Royal Tramp 1 & 2 (1992), Hail the Judge (1994) and Forbidden City Cop (1996) which Jing produced. They last teamed up in the sadly lacklustre The Tricky Master (1999).
Jing also created Naked Killer (1992), although I don’t think he should be congratulated for it. He would continue to produce the further entries in the franchise, Naked Weapon (2002), which is even worse than the original. He saved the worst for last with Naked Soldier (2012), a china approved take on the formula, which means very little sex is allowed. The film is cheap looking and squanders the talents of Sammo Hung. Even Andy On is better than the material he is given. Jing would also produce variations on the Naked Killer formula with the Raped by an Angel Series and Her Name is Cat (1998), directed by Naked Killer director Clarence Fok.
Although low brow comedy and women are seemingly Wong Jings main passions, he has been known to step out of his comfort zone and turn out more series movie’s. A number of the films he has made with Andy Lau have been straight up drama’s, such as Lee Rock 1 & 2 (1991) which he produced or the afore mentioned A True Mob Story (1998). He has also made the surprisingly good crime thrillers Colour of the Truth, mentioned previously and the thematic sequel Colour of the Loyalty (2005). He would follow them up with the equally good I Corrupt All Cops (2009), or alternatively ICAC, a period crime thriller based around the formation of the” Independent Commission Against Corruption”, which cleverly shares the same abbreviation as the title of the film. The film turns out to be a compelling pot boiler with great performances from its three leads, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Eason Chan and Anthony Wong.
More recently he re-teamed with Chow Yun Fat for The Last Tycoon. This would be the fifth time that Chow had acted in a film by Wong Jing, excluding the films that Jing had also produced. Since then they have worked together on another 3 films, with another two in the pipeline, one of which is apparently based on Chow’s old TV show The Bund (1983).
Manfred Wong handled scripting duties on the film as well as being one of its credited producers. Wong is probably best known for his work on the Young and Dangerous series as well as co-founding BoB and Partners Company Ltd along with Andrew Lau and Wong Jing. The script for Young and Dangerous is one of the better scripts that he has written, with well drawn characters and dialogue. The plot isn’t the best, with him actually doing better work in the first two sequels. Unfortunately he would run the well dry in regards to Young and Dangerous, as even though the series is overall enjoyable, certain entries could have been left out.
Wong has also worked as a writer for various magazines and is also a radio personality in his native Hong Kong. From this he moved on to becoming a scriptwriter at RTV, which is famous for being the first television channel to emerge in Hong Kong. He would then move onto films at the tail end of the 1970’s, with his first film script being for the drama Encore (1980). He would continue throughout the eighties working on a number of smaller films as well as some better known movies like Rich and Famous (1987) and Tragic Hero (1987).
Moving into the 1990’s the majority of his films as scriptwriter were forgettable, with titles like Lonely Seventeen (1992), Female Internment Camp (1993) and Born Innocent (1994). It wouldn’t be until his work on Young and Dangerous that he would begin to become more high profile, with him carrying out scripting duties on Storm Riders, Legend of Speed and A Man Called Hero. He also contributed to the script for the comedy Women from Mars (2002). All these film co-incidentally are directed by Andrew Lau.
After this he would take a break from script writing. He would return in 2010, after a break of 8 years with Bruce Lee: My Brother (2010), an unfairly maligned biopic of the young Bruce Lee. He also co-directed the film along with director Raymond Yip. Since then he has been fairly consistent in regards to script writing, contributing to the scripts for The Last Tycoon, Young and Dangerous Reloaded and The White Storm (2013). His latest writing credit was for this year’s The Phantom of the Theatre (2016), a supernatural thriller directed by Bruce Lee: My Brother director Raymond Yip.
As well as working as a writer, Manfred Wong has also produced over 50 films a good number of which he also wrote, and has acted in over 70 films. Mostly appearing in small roles, he can be spotted in films like Erotic Ghost Story (1990), Sixty Million Dollar Man (1995) and Forbidden City Cop.
In addition to this he has directed 5 films. The drama Crazy Seventeen (1985), which he also wrote. He then wrote and directed A Tale from the East (1990), a poor attempt at a fantasy starring Joey Wong. He would move on to the Twilight of the Forbidden City (1992), an enjoyable historical drama which he also wrote. Co-directed by Poon Man-Kit, the only real drawback of the film is making Max Mok the films lead. He would follow this up with the drama The Trail (1993), starring the great Jiang Wen. Unfortunately this film is very difficult to track down, and the copy I had available was unwatchable. His last directing credit was the already mentioned Bruce Lee: My Brother.
Although Young and Dangerous is considerably light on action in comparison to other Hong Kong films of its ilk, what action scenes there are handled well, focusing more on brawling than gunfights, although Jordan Chan does brandish a shotgun in the finale, which is the only real scene featuring gunplay. The action choreography is overseen by Dion Lam, who also appears in the film as the character Silly Keung.
Lam started out in the early 1980’s, acting first, with his first credited role being in Encore, which was written by Manfred Wong. He would work on various Hong Kong action films throughout the 1980’s, appearing in small roles in films like Born to Defence (1988), acting alongside a young Jet Li and also into the 1990’s with small roles in Tiger Cage 3 (1991), The Shootout (1992), Once Upon a Time in China 5 (1994) as well as many others. He can also be seen in the Jean Claude Van Damme film Double Impact (1991), which was partly shot in Hong Kong. Since then he has acted in over 70 films, and can be spotted most recently in Kung Fu Jungle (2014), appearing in one of the films many cameo roles.
Throughout his film roles he also worked as an action choreographer, starting with the overlooked Mirage (1987), which he was co-action director on along with the films main director Tsui Siu-Ming. He would move onto bigger films, being one of the main action directors on Shanghai, Shanghai (1990), along with Yuen Tak and Yuen Kwai. Although he doesn’t have the same name recognition as some of the better known Hong Kong action directors such as Yuen Woo Ping or Ching Siu Tung, you can always guarantee if Lam’s name is attached there will be at least some decent action involved, even if the rest of the film doesn’t live up to expectations. Films like the Saint of Gamblers (1995), which is one of the lesser entries in the series, is at least brightened up by Lam’s decent action scenes.
He would carry on his association with the Andrew Lau and Wong Jing, by being the action director on Storm Riders, A Man Called Hero and the first of the Infernal Affairs films. After this he had a brief sojourn to Hollywood, assisting Yuen Woo Ping on the two Matrix sequels, Matrix Reloaded (2003) and Matrix Revolutions (2003). From this he went on to work on Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 (2004), although there is nothing in the film that clearly stands out as his work.
After coming back to Hong Kong, he carried out action directing for Chen Kaige on his extremely underrated The Promise (2005). Unfavourably compared to other famous wuxia of the time, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Hero (2002), The Promise seems to have been universally derided for being a fantasy film.
He would once again work for Andrew Lau, on the Korean movie Daisy, before being one of the action directors on John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008) and Red Cliff 2 (2009). His latest credit as action director finds him once again working with Wong Jing, on the action comedy Mission Milano (2016).