Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.
A HK gangster epic released to theatres and video in two parts, this Mak Brothers / Win's co-production (directed by Taylor Wong Tai-loi) does not do nearly as good a job at balancing its action and drama components as its obvious inspiration, A BETTER TOMORROW. In RICH AND FAMOUS, Yung (Alex Man Chi-leung) is caught forging a betting slip, necessitating that his brother, Kwok (Andy Lau Tak-wah), save him from having his little finger cut off in punishment. When further troubles arise, the brothers enlist the aid of Chai (Chow Yun-fat), a powerful opponent of their nemesis, and he smooths things out. The siblings join Chai's gang and are betrayed during an exchange with one of Chai's competitors. Further trouble arises when a Thai drug baron refuses to continue supplying his HK underworld clients, unless Chai turns over the man's old enemy (Fan Mui-sang). Yung's big mouth puts him out of favor with Chai, prompting the former to accept a contract to murder the dealer under the latter's protection. This is done and Chai quickly surmises Yung's guilt but Kwok intercedes for him again. Chai spares the traitor but orders them both away, prompting Yung to join up with Chai's adversary.
Chow Yun-Fat in RICH AND FAMOUS.
Image courtesy Tai Seng.
TRAGIC HERO (which actually came out first because the producers felt it was the more commercial of the two) opens a few years later, with Yung more determined than ever to kill Chai, now a successful businessman who seeks peace. Yung eliminates his competitors in the organization one by one, until only he and his target retain any real hold on power. The two meet face to face and it seems clear that a war is imminent. Kwok returns from self-imposed exile in Malaysia to try and convince Yung to spare Chai and, apparently, calms the waters. In the meantime, one of Chai's lieutenants (Shing Fui-on) tries to assassinate Yung on his own but is betrayed by a confederate (Lam Chung). In light of this tragedy, Chai finally comes to the realization that the situation cannot be resolved without violence, a position that Kwok also adopts, when Yung has his wife and children murdered.
Alex Man from TRAGIC HERO. Image
courtesy Tai Seng.
While it compares well to many of the post-A BETTER TOMORROW triad films, RICH AND FAMOUS is not as bold and compelling as it clearly wishes to be. This is partly because the dramatic conflicts remain unresolved at the end but mainly due to the fact that the characters are largely interchangeable and never expand beyond genre stereotypes, a flaw that also carries over into the next film. Yung's actions and intent in TRAGIC HERO are so obvious, the relentless stalling on the part of Chai and Kwok is frustrating and illogical, making it even less dramatically sound than its predecessor. However, the final battle in part 2 (which includes inordinate amounts of gunplay and destruction) is quite satisfying on a kinetic level and Joseph Chan Wing-leung's score is among the most driving and memorable in the genre. Alan Tam Wing-lun co-stars in the first film, while Danny Lee Sau-yin (as a thick-headed cop determined to nail Chai), Carina Lau Kar-ling, Pauline Wong Siu-fung, and Yeung Kwan, are among the performers who appear in both.