9413 (1998)

Directed by: Francis Ng
Written by: Sandy Shaw
Herman Yau & Ng Ga Bo
Starring: Francis Ng, Christine Ng, Amanda Lee & Fredric Mao

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:
Best Supporting Actress (Amanda Lee)

Faced with a 2 week shooting schedule, veteran actor Francis Ng still insisted on doing double duty as actor and first time director, resulting in this dark but interesting crime drama.

Smash Head (Ng) is a police whose life has taken a nosedive into the world of madness and decadence. During a previous case he made a crucial mistake and killed a female hostage. His corrupt superior Kar (Fredric Mao - A Queer Story) agreed to testify in Smash Head's favour in exchange for some illegal favours. During all this Smash head meets and befriends a female psychiatrist (Christine Ng - Love Is Not A Game But A Joke) who sees how low he has sunken and decides to try and help him. During an assignment Smash Head realizes that Kar was responsible for the death of his partner and he decides to report Kar and break out of the relationship with him. That decision trigger events where the few close ones in Smash Heads life lies in grave danger...

9413 begins at an odd pace where basically nothing of the plot is revealed or becomes clear until maybe 30 minutes into the movie. Some scenes can feel a bit self-indulgent, most notably the two erotic scenes (which earned the movie its Cat III-rating) with Amanda Lee (from Full Alert). They do manage end on a nice little humorous note though and they felt quite suiting for the character of Smash Head and what he has become. Eventually the movie finds its flow and Ng's very worthwhile directing begins manifesting itself. While stylized at times, Ng's choices remain valid in the way it echoes the world of the character of Smash Head.

The very dark and seedy atmosphere is enhanced nicely thanks to the location shooting on the streets of urban Hong Kong. One of the key settings in the movie is the nightclub that clearly symbolizes how low Smash Head has sunken and that he might not be able to return to a sane life and mind. The man responsible for the solid photography, that reflects all this, is Herman Yau (cinematographer on Legend of Zu and director of The Untold Story).

9413 would've been a much weaker film if it weren't for the two main actors; Francis Ng & Christine Ng (no relation). Especially Francis continues to amaze me and he further adds to the fact he is one of the best character actors working in Hong Kong today. It's a somewhat anti-heroic character he takes on but slowly Ng gets his positive reveals in a suitably subtle way. It's suitably also to have Francis in charge of Smash Head therefore.

With the gorgeous Christine Ng, Francis creates compelling interplay. They're on the same level as actors here but not character wise. He is hurt and has become a dirty human being while she is a clean and out of harms way woman and this is how they connect. It's this relationship that is the heart and highlight of the movie and it's wonderful to see these two actors doing such fine work.

Amanda Lee got the movie's only nomination but I didn't feel that her performance deserved such recognition. She's not really bad in her role and she basically functions as a temporary love interest for Smash Head. We don't get to know more about her character than that. She gets more involved during the later and more tense parts of the movie but again I didn't feel she made enough of an impression to deserve that nod. But if the audience would've been in charge these choices, then I guess Sam Lee would've had 10 Hong Kong Film Awards by now. Fredric Mao is menacing as the script dictates and is a sneaky, creepy bad guy. More so as the movie turns darker and darker.

9413 is an interesting study of a shattered soul trying to piece together himself together in an destructive world. Take two very good lead performances and solid debut direction by Francis Ng and 9413 adds up to an interesting crime-drama. It definitely sparks interest for future projects with Ng behind the camera.

The DVD:

Widesight's disc is one of average quality. It is framed at approximately 1.71:1 but the picture is very soft and colours quite murky. Night scenes look slightly better though and the print isn't too badly scratched.

The audio choices available are Cantonese and Mandarin, mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1. My player said 5.1 but I couldn't hear any surround activity. Hell, I couldn't even pick up on any front channels separation. It all sounded mono to me but it worked fine to be honest.

The English and Chinese subtitles are burned onto the print but are of high quality and always readable. No extras are included.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson