Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone" (2000)

Directed by: Dante Lam
Written & produced by: Chan Hing-Kar & Amy Chin
Starring: Tony Leung Kar-Fai, Sandra Ng, Roy Cheung, Chan Fai-Hung, Samuel Pang & Anthony Wong

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2001:
Best Picture
Best Screenplay (Chan Hing-Kar & Amy Chin)
Best Actor (Tony Leung Kar-Fai)
Best Supporting Actor (Roy Cheung)

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2001:
Best Screenplay (Chan Hing-Kar & Amy Chin)
Film Of Merit

Beast Cops co-director Dante Lam brings with him the attention to characters to his own directed Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone". Triadmovies are a pleasant enough time distraction but writing about that tired genre of movies is something I try and stay away from, unless it's noteable in other ways.

The triadboss Jim Yan (Tony Leung Kar-Fai from A Better Tomorrow 3) is the subject of a daring assassination attempt and that triggers an investigation by him to find out who so desperately wants him removed from the triad scene...

Riley Yip observed in Metade Fumaca that triads and their lives is pretty silly and stupid. Even if movies glamorize the lifestyle you can't really deny that even the highest ranked triads sometimes act and look stupid. Dante Lam's Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone" is a film with both none and much seriousness. It plays out like a parody of the genre but also adds a certain characterdepth in between.

From the start the tone feels correctly balanced. Looking at the plot and how it unfolds, it could've been just any other "serious" triadmovie. The characters of Jiang Hu are rarely aware of the absurdities of their lives, which creates a good dose of comedic situations. Realistically the people would react to a funny situation but Dante handles it so that the goal to have us laughing at them rather than them laughing amongst themselves, is achieved. So the tone of Jiang Hu is a quirky one up til the final third of the movie, when it takes a more serious approach (with a few mildly silly stuff injected from time to time). To make a list of the typical conventions of this genre is not hard but to make sure the parody and the references are spot on is the challenge. Chan Hing-Kar and Amy Chin (who penned the wonderful La Brassiere) have sampled their share of triadmovies and to Dante they bring some clever writing that is then nicely enhanced in filming. The best moments lies in the interplay between the characters and most of the humour created through them is played pretty low-key. You don't need to know the genre inside and out to appreciate it but somehow I don't think this kind of verbal humour (Jiang Hu doesn't feature strictly Cantonese humour though) is for all viewers. It depends on your sense of humour and personally I thought some of the scenes were downright brilliant. Some more or less known Hong Kong movies is referenced and made fun of also. It's subtle but I found obvious nods to The Mission, Ebola Sybdrome and in a subtle way The Terminator movies.

Director Dante Lam also scores points in the way he shoots this film. It's a stylish production in everything from costumedesign to cinematography and the latter adds more a level of coolness, rather than humour. I normally do mind overexhilarating camerawork but in Jiang Hu I didn't. The various action scenes are shot in a way not entirely unlike something Wong Kar-Wai would do but in all honesty I don't think Dante is fully borrowing from just one. He seeks a way to execute violence and action so it suits him. It's not easy to come up with anything new so why not borrow bits from the best ones? The result isn't groundbreaking but on the other hand it doesn't feel like a copy of anything or anyone either.

Going back to the last third of the film that focuses more on the serious sides of our characters. Many of the side characters aren't incredibly deep but there is something about the casting of this movie that doesn't require big arcs. We know enough. The script focuses more on the triadboss Jim Yan and his wife Sophie (Sandra Ng). The current state of their marriage is the classical once happy, now going through the motions-relationship. Later on Dante takes us, in a flashback, to London where the two first meet and upon returning to Hong Kong gets married. In the present there's then the question of how and if they're going to get close again. Incredibly enough, this serious section does work with the madness seen earlier. The problem is though that for a while it isn't as compellingly made compared to the rest of the film. That way we lose the connection for a while with our characters. Dante rebounds towards the end and finally gets his message through though. The overall impact of the film is lessened a bit because of this drop in quality, sadly.

The list of actors, in both big and small parts, is mighty compelling though. Except the leading man and lady we see Roy Cheung, Eric Tsang, Jo Kuk, Eason Chan (whose character is named after director Wilson Yip, a joke I didn't fully get I think), Ann Hui, Helena Law, an almost unrecognizeable Lee Lik-Chi, Richard Ng and last but never least Anthony Wong. When he turns up Jiang Hu totally diverts from reality because he plays the god General Kwan. If anything, THIS is the moment the movie becomes quirky. Anthony is hilarious and even gets to show off some martial arts moves, a rare treat. Tony Leung Kar-Fai is very fitting as the cool and suave triadboss, almost always dressed expensively. He has good facial expressions in scenes of comedy and as I've said before, he just gets better and better. Sandra Ng is always interesting but I felt she didn't fully become part of the movie until it comes full circle in the end. She's very good but somehow her performance didn't fully click, which it was striving for, until late for me. As one of Jim Yan's right hand men we see an actor called Chan Fai-Hung. It's not a spectacular performance but I liked his presence. Could be interesting to see him in future or past roles.

Dante Lam's Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone" displays feel for creative and subtle comedy in combination with well-written characters. All that creates a highly entertaining film, despite a slump in quality at one crucial point. There's lots to like, even if it's only Anthony Wong.

The DVD:

Even if it's non-anamorphic Mei Ah has given us a very strong 1.85:1 transfer. I only spotted one hair on the print and sharpness and black levels comes off very nice. Colours appear a bit muted but that may be intentional.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track does not surprise nor disappoint. It uses all channels for various effects and dialogue is evenly mixed as well. A 2.0 Cantonese option is also available plus the same choices in Mandarin.

The English subtitles I had no complaints about whatsoever. Maybe only one spelling error but the rest was done very well. In a movie where dialogue based comedy is used, subtitles must be done right. They are. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available.

The Data Bank has the usual cast & crew listing plus a plot a synopsis. Under the Best Buy option you'll find trailers for A War Named Desire (which is terrific because it was nowhere to be found on that dvd!) and U-571.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson