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April 16th, 2001 Issue #52

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.

Undercover Blues
(2000; Flying Dragon Entertainment Production Co. / Buddy Film Creative Workshop): 4/10

Cover art courtesy Winson.



Simon Lui Yu-yeung. Image courtesy Winson.

Director Billy Chung Siu-hung and actor/co-writer Simon Lui Yu-yeung are back with yet another slickly produced crime thriller. Like most of their other collaborations, UNDERCOVER BLUES is moderately involving but ends up being hobbled by a weak screenplay.

Ray Lui Leung-wai. Image courtesy Winson.

Veteran cop Frank Chan (Ray Lui Leung-wai, who also co-produced) discovers that old protege Joe Wong (Daniel Wu Yan-zu) is now working undercover in a triad gang. The HK police department lost contact with him when he went to Malaysia with his boss, Spanner (Blackie Ko Shou-liang), ostensibly to see some races. Ordered to locate Joe, Frank assembles an unorthodox team, consisting of the depressed Charles (Wong Hei), whose wife is on the verge of leaving him, Simon (a blonde Mark Cheng Ho-nam), whose underworld dealings have gotten him into trouble with the I.C.A.C. department, and Frank's former partner, Fred (Simon Lui Yu-yeung), who is now a feared triad enforcer. Once the group arrive in Malaysia, they are threatened by a local gang but eventually locate Spanner. The dai lo and his men were ambushed while making a deal and the attack cost Spanner one of his hands. Joe, however, has disappeared, and Spanner believes that he is being held by drug kingpin Hung Shing. Further events, and Fred's personal agenda, place everyone in great danger.

Wong Hei. Image courtesy Winson.

The visuals are slick and the leads are glacially cool but we are not given enough reason to care about them or their assignment. Chung resorts to replicating one of the most famous events (and even one of the most famous shots) from RESERVOIR DOGS and the script contains some laughable cliches (one character mentions that he plans to turn his life around if he survives and is fatally shot less than ten seconds later). The novel relationship between Ray Lui and Simon Lui's characters (both with their own take on the way things are) is an asset and one sequence features the most unusual bomb you will ever see. Ultimately though, the movie mostly just spins its wheels and amounts to little, making this Buddy Film Workshop's weakest genre offering to date. Taiwanese actress/model Jessey Meng Guang-mei (who co-starred in RED CORNER), Chapman To Man-chat, and Wong Chi-yeung also appear, while Liu Wai-hung and Natalie Ng Man-yan have parts so lacking in substance and screentime, one wonders if they signed on as a favor to someone.

Daniel Wu Yin-cho. Image courtesy Winson.

DVD Specs:

Winson #WDV 3062U
Dolby Digital (2.0 and 5.1 options)
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Optional Subtitles In English or Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
9 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips
Letterboxed (1.79:1)
Category IIB (for brutal violence and very mild sexual content)
76 Minutes

DVD menu courtesy Winson.

The keep case lists the running time as 85 minutes but it's actually only 76, making this the shortest HK film in memory. The presentation is a major step up from the other Winson DVDs covered here thus far. The image is sharp and the intentionally low-key colors are stable throughout; the print has only a few stray speckles and markings. The 5.1 options have no real channel separations but the mix comes across a bit more forcefully; there are a handful of sound dropouts on the Cantonese tracks. The majority of the Cantonese version has sync sound but Mark Cheng was apparently not available when it came time to do some post-production looping, as a couple of his lines are spoken by another actor who sounds suspiciously like Simon Lui. A handful of compression errors pop up but nothing prolonged or seriously distracting, which is surprising considering the ridiculously low bit rate (which stays below the 50% mark for the entire running time) used here. Subtitle translation is mediocre and no English equivalent is provided for the Chinese intertitles seen at the beginning and the end. Extras consist of trailers for I DO, a Japanese film with an untranslated title, THE TEACHER WITHOUT CHALK, and the anime GRANDMA AND HER GHOSTS.

Mark Cheng Ho-nam. Image courtesy Winson.

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

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