Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
Those Were The Days
Gigi Leung Wing-kei and Jordan Chan Siu-chun. Image courtesy Universe.
This offshoot of the long-running YOUNG AND DANGEROUS series gives centre stage to Jordan Chan Siu-chun's Chicken character (called "Cock" in the English subtitles here) and partially eschews the usual goo wak jai plotting in favour of a leisurely and reflective storyline that is more concerned with character than flair, an approach these movies should consider more often.
Not to be confused with a number of other HK films sporting this title, THOSE WERE THE DAYS opens with Chicken and his associates paying a visit to Ben Hon (Vincent Wan Yeung-ming) and Sister Thirteen (Sandra Ng Kwan-yu) at their casino in Macau. While there, Chicken encounters Lok Wing-ho, the younger brother of Gee (Gigi Leung Wing-kei), a girl he almost married seven years earlier. Flashbacks show how the two met as children and became close friends, living across the hall from one another in a crowded tenement. However, as the years pass, the gulf between them widens, with Gee thinking seriously about school and the future, while Chicken and his slacker buddies join up with Hung Hing boss Brother Bee (Frankie Ng Chi-hung). The fact that Chicken has become a triad is particularly upsetting to Gee and she goes out of her way to avoid him. The love-struck Chicken takes this rejection quite hard but is shocked to discover soon afterwards that Gee is desperately trying to earn money by working as a hostess in one of Hung Hing's clubs. The girl's ailing mother (Shaw Brothers veteran Lily Li Li-li) needs $150,000 to pay for an operation and she makes Chicken swear that he will take care of Gee and her little brother, should anything happen. The woman dies two months later, and Chicken promises to accompany the two to Macau, but he is detained by gang business and they end-up leaving without him. After killing a Fukienese boss, Chicken cools his heels in a small fishing community on Lamma Island and begins a relationship with local girl Chu (Chan Pak-yue). During the intervening months, Gee has sought to improve her station in life by entering The Miss HK Contest but the media soon gets wind of her club girl past and that dream falls by the wayside. When Chicken learns of what has happened, he gets in touch and discovers that Gee now has feelings for him. The pair plan to wed but fate intervenes.
Chan Pak-yue. Image courtesy Universe.
This is an unusually melancholy entry in the series, which is an especially refreshing change of direction after the entertaining but relentlessly overwrought PORTLAND STREET BLUES (which was also directed by Raymond Yip Wai-man). Manfred Wong's screenplays almost always suffer from excess, both in terms of plotting and melodramatic contrivance, and THOSE WERE THE DAYS is not entirely free of the latter. Fortunately, the balance is intelligent and believable enough to make one amenable to accept these occasional lapses and remain interested in the characters. Gigi Leung is fine but Jordan Chan gets the opportunity here to display all of Chicken's attributes and gives a very impressive performance; his ability to so persuasively impart the growth the character experiences over the years is particularly satisfying. While it is not really a direct continuation, the film does advance one of the series' running storylines by concluding with the wedding of Ben and Thirteen, and Y & D regulars Jerry Lam Hiu-feng, Michael Tse Tin-wah, Jason Chu Wing-tong, Anthony Wong Chau-sang, Lee Siu-kei, Kristy Yang Guo-rong, and, of course, Ekin Cheng Yee-kin all put in appearances.
Jason Chu, Jerry Lam, Michael Tse, and Jordan Chan (left to right). Image courtesy Universe.