A Mob Story (2007)
Directed by: Herman Yau
Assassin Seven (Julian Cheung) returns to the triad world after a 10 year absence and takes a job again within the always turmoil ridden world where power is king. Having revenge on his mind too as he's after triad boss Fatt (Hugo Ng) who killed his father, his job though is to take out the wife to be (Mandy Chiang) of Fatt. She is a saviour of almost everyone she meets it seems but almost everyone seems to bite the bullet too. The assassination at the night of the wedding goes wrong though as Seven's task is intercepted by another shooter. Knowing he will be the one Fatt's followers will be after despite, he takes refuge to Taiwan and re-connects with longtime loyal brother Goblin (Cheung Tat-Ming). Constantly in trouble and beat up, Goblin has eyes only for hooker Chi-Ling (Yin Shin) and wants to buy her freedom from local gangsters. With Seven entering and creating a triangle though, bloody hell amongst them will break loose...
Consciously destined for direct release on video, since there are complaints out there that investors merely want to see gangster flicks, does Herman Yau's A Mob Story signal one of those lazy hollers or is Yau trying to inject some modest twists into a well-worn genre? Since Young And Dangerous director Andrew Lau sits in one of the producer's chairs, one can hope and be worried, especially so since our director also must log a piece of crap every now and then. The Yin to his Yang. If you're looking to be ambitious, you don't chose this particular English title however. HOWEVER...it's nice to be deceived every once in a while by generics as Yau (and possibly Thirteen Chan who is credited as Creative Director) explores well-worn territory without attempting to plow new. How is that deception you ask?
The down and dirty underworld of Hong Kong gets a familiar showcase early with a busy camera catching the bright neon lights of the city but early A Mob Story looks to be greatly populated by the crippled and wounded. Seems no one has been able to hold onto their limbs, including Hugo Ng's Fatt whose reproductive organ hovers in danger. Featuring slight satire, huge chunks of dark humour and deadpan wit, Herman Yau has often been a director that demands attention as he can often catch you off guard even when once again splashing the frame with said content. Continuing on with his overly conscious style-fest from Gong Tau An Oriental Black Magic, considering how much he plays with the video format in this regard, suspicions arise of wanting to deceit the audience to thinking there's substance when in reality there is none. Yau turns his camera upside down, shoots "evocative" angles during dialogue scenes where mouth, nose and eyes are focus in jarringly framed shots and although there's individual examples of how being MTV can work for your story (especially the way he brings in flashbacks within same shot placement), Yau continues to frustrate a little in 2007.
This not so fresh cinematic world of power hungry triads and brotherhood on top of it all threatens to suck the modest life out of the film that it aims for. No doubt Yau's images look sharp and competent overall though because you think video or low-budget, you think very little ambitions than face the camera towards the action and shout action. But portraying Lam Chun-Yue's script, there's enough going on of vague nature to spark our curiosity vein. The cold, famed assassin Seven is seen as (not necessarily by himself) as a king in the underworld and his continued road as a gun for hire has the past catching up to him again. By his own admission and decision. 10 years is not enough to forget but he's also aiming to be not just another piece in this game of achieving status and power. His own revenge plot becomes highly secondary when he's no longer in control of who's out there attempting to spin events and the refuge to Taiwan begins consciously stopping the movie dead in its tracks.
But here's the actual clever bit. Not only does Yau begin showing restraint in the visual department but the introduction of new characters with no known agenda, merely brotherly connections, blooms eventually into fair interest. It's a relief to be somewhere else BUT the familiar streets and alleys of Hong Kong but it's also interesting how the triad world, whether in Hong Kong or Taiwan, is in A Mob Story the equivalent of a twisting black hole. Notions of dignity is one example of that where you display yours through acts of bloody violence and it should be mentioned that Yau is really loving the taste of blood again (and even deadpan, absurd wit worthy of Johnnie To-status). This film is indeed quite relentlessly gory and brutal at points, much connecting in a modest but still valid way to how characters such as Seven and his brother Goblin have little control. It's the world that controls, even those who feel they are in charge of it. Women are as deceitful, prone to violence but also pursuing dreams of being free within this. Does strength play a role in breaking out or will they all be devoured anyway?
Yau leaves A Mob Story effectively open ended and as effectively interesting in its small ways. You don't expect anything, a fan of Herman Yau or not, when dealing with the little variations of the triad movie template and especially not if you've decided not to satirize every notion the world offers up (like in the Once Upon A Time In Triad Society films). No, Yau paints the world red in a gruesome manner as well as black and characters should just prepare to be tugged along at every conceivable twist that may defy logic but WILL drain you of your humanity. This random tugging back and forth adds unexpected layers to A Mob Story that benefits more from the decision to treat old conventions with competence rather than showering the whole experience in technical excess. Part guilty, part acquitted, Herman Yau's stand is welcome. So is small cinema. Never forget that.
Shot on video and in different aspect ratios, the film's main aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (with anamorphic enhancement) is presented by Joy Sales in a colourful and sharp manner.
Audio options are Cantonese/Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese/Mandarin DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles are coherent with little to no problems. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
The options Trailers in the main menu is the actual trailer for A Mob Story that kicks off the special features. What remains after that is a Chinese only subtitled Making Of (15 minutes, 21 seconds). A program that seemingly goes through the motions only.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson