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December 7th, 2000 Issue #32

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 Kong Filmography.

Born To Be King
(2000; Golden Harvest/Artwell Productions): 6/10

Cover courtesy Universe.
Sing je wai wong

Sheng zhe wei wang

To the Victor Go The Spoils

Sandra Ng Kwun-yu, Jordan Chan Siu-chun, Anya, Vincent Wan Yeung-ming (left to right). Image courtesy Universe.

The latest entry in the YOUNG AND DANGEROUS series finds Andrew Lau Wai-keung returning to the director's chair and that is certainly apparent from the increased emphasis on sound and fury. The San Luen Gang from Taiwan seeks an alliance with the Yamada Gang, so Chicken (Jordan Chan Siu-chun) is ordered to marry the daughter of their leader, Ichio Kusakari (Sonny Chiba). Accompanied by his friends from Hung Hing, Chicken journeys to Japan for the ceremony, where Chiang (Alex Man Chi-leung) announces his intention to retire and hand over the leadership of Hung Hing to Chan Ho-nam (Ekin Cheng Yee-kin). In a similar gesture, Kusakari expresses the wish that Chicken one day succeed him as the leader of his group, a gesture that dismays the yakuza's adopted son, Akira (Roy Cheung Yiu-yeung). While Chicken is enjoying his domestic life (even though he and his new bride cannot understand a thing the other is saying), trouble is brewing within San Luen. Young, westernized Lui Fu-kwan (THE TRUTH ABOUT JANE AND SAM's Peter Ho Yun-tung) would seem to be the natural choice to take the place of his father as leader but is reluctant to accept the post.

King Shih-chieh and Peter Ho Yun-tung. Image courtesy Universe.

When Lui is attacked, San Luen’s hot-headed senior lieutenant Brave (Chen Sung-yung) accuses Chicken of being behind the attempted assassination but his counterpart, Kam (King Shih-chieh), still has Chicken accompany him to a meeting called by Taiwan's most highly respected triad, Eagle. With the victory of the Democratic Progressive Party in the election, the face of Taiwan is set to change and Chen Shui-bian's pledge to eliminate corruption is a threat that all of the various gangs must deal with. Thanks to a traitor within Hung Hing, Chicken and an old friend are ambushed in a Taiwan nightclub, with the latter dying from the attack.

Gigi Lai Chi. Image courtesy Universe.

Back in Japan, Akira rapes Chicken's wife (the newcomer Anya) and is behind an assault that badly injures his father. It eventually becomes clear that the developments in the two countries are part of a plan to unify all of Taiwan's triad factions under a single leadership. In a secondary storyline, Ho-nam meets schoolteacher Tuan Mu Ruo-yu (Gigi Lai Chi), who is a dead ringer for the murdered Smartie, a development that does not bode well for his relationship with Mei Ling (Hsu Chi).

Hsu Chi and Ekin Cheng. Image courtesy Universe.

The storyline this time out has a very interesting and timely notion at its core: with the Nationalist Party finally deposed from power, how will their successors deal with the immense power and influence that the triads exert in Taiwan? Ultimately, that premise and another fine performance from Jordan Chan do more to engage and entertain than all of Lau's technical tricks (he again serves as his own cinematographer). Manfred Wong’s screenplay is not free from implausibities, however, not the least of which is the idea that Kusakari would even toy with the notion of handing over control of his empire to a man he has only known for a short time (not to mention one who does not even speak a word of Japanese!). After being rather winning in TOKYO RAIDERS, Ekin Cheng reverts back to his patented brand of non-acting, verging perilously on self-parody, while the idea of bringing Gigi Lai back into the series is a tired contrivance. (It is bad enough that Hsu Chi has already played two characters -- we now have Roy Cheung playing a THIRD one; surely with the talent pool in HK and Taiwan, other performers could be utilized.) Speaking of Hsu, her little girl spunk and coyness that was so winning in YOUNG AND DANGEROUS V is just plain annoying here, and Peter Ho conveys neither the menace nor the sagacity needed to pull off his role. Following up his memorable performance as "Lord Conquer" in THE STORMRIDERS, Sonny Chiba projects quiet strength and dignity, demonstrating again just what an interesting and regal actor he has become in the latter half of his career. Blackie Ko Shou-liang, Michael Tse Tin-wah, Jerry Lam Hiu-feng, Sandra Ng Kwan-yu, Vincent Wan Yeung-ming, Chin Kar-lok, Jason Chu Wing-tong, Spencer Lam Sheung-yee, and kung fu movie veteran George Wang Kuo also appear. Stay tuned for a few outtakes under the end credits.

Sonny Chiba and Roy Cheung Yiu-yeung. Image courtesy Universe.

DVD Specs:

Universe #5509
Dolby Digital (5.1)
Optional Subtitles in English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
8 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips Letterboxed (1.83:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
Category IIB (for the usual triad gang violence and some brief, non-explicit sexual violence)
116 Minutes

DVD menu courtesy Universe.

Universe has given BORN TO BE KING a first-rate presentation on DVD. The picture looks razor sharp throughout and the colors are very attractive (the exterior sequences in Japan look especially beautiful). The stereo is forceful, with the pounding techno portions of the soundtrack making this the most aggressive mix in the series thus far. The disc offers just one audio track, which the packaging identifies as the "International Version," a fitting mixture of Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and English. Extras consist of the theatrical trailer, the trailer for AND I HATE YOU SO, and bilingual Star Files for Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Hsu Chi, Gigi Lai, and Peter Ho.


Copyright © John Charles 2000, 2001. All Rights Reserved.

Hong Kong Digital is presented in association with Hong Kong Entertainment News In Review