Runaway (2001)

Directed by: Dante Lam
Written by: Ng Wai Lun & La Ho Leung
Producers: Dante Lam & Joseph Cheung
Starring: Nick Cheung, Anthony Wong, Ruby Wong, Samuel Pang & Ken Lo

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Young triads So (Nick Cheung from the Conman-series) and King (Samuel Pang from Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone") not only rips off their rival boss Ray (Anthony Wong) but also their own, Kwan (Joe Lee from Bullets Over Summer) and next step is to find refuge somewhere outside of Hong Kong. Mainland China is too boring so the two decide to head to where the sun is, in this case Phuket, Thailand. It doesn't take long before the Hong Kong triads get wind of So & King's location and both camps send representatives to handle the situation. Kwan sends Tai (Ken Lo), who has his roots there and Ray sends himself. He has a mistress, Ching (Ruby Wong) on the island and soon the priorities change regarding the purpose of their mission to Phuket...

I never think I've had this much trouble actually starting to review a movie. It probably means I'm thick but finding one main theme present in Runaway proved to be very hard. Obviously director Dante Lam isn't looking to make another satire of triadmovies just like Jiang Hu and the adding of a stranger romantic edge adds diversity to his directing filmography. On some levels redemption is an element of the story but that and so many other elements of the running time I can only describe in one word: vague.

More of the stylish director Lam is seen in the opening minutes of the film where we're introduced to our foolish main characters. There's certainly not a lack of colourful characters but the problem is that they are the supporting ones (Joe Lee could've saved Runaway if he'd been given a larger part). What we're stuck with in this triad/romance/comedy are two characters (So and King) that don't possess much for the viewer to care about. As with many other slick clothed, young triads, they are cowards who would rather run away than deal with a situation. Knowing movie structure, you expect development along the way that maybe will steer us away from this first impression of characters. I'm sure that development is seen and dealt with somewhere along the way but it's drowned in a movie that seems to enjoy pulling the viewer in a new direction every minute.

When we think Dante Lam has settled on focusing on, for example, the struggling Ray/Ching couple or King's reasons to be in the triads, new plot elements are introduced, making it harder to connect fully to characters and events. The connection between them is made clear but when that happens, I wasn't particularly interested in any of them. Dante has the performers, the cinematography (Tony Cheung doesn't disappoint shooting on location in Thailand), the gift of amping up scenes stylistically but he doesn't have structured writing. That then carries over to the directing. It's just too much little bits going on for one to take it all in. A second viewing may prove more rewarding but if you're this negative towards a movie, the motivation for a second dose isn't very big.

Sporadic signs of quirky entertainment pops up now and then and I always welcome new takes on this worn genre. Without ever really taking off, the flow of the film is decent when we see the boys enjoy the sun and Tai coming to look for them. What's on display here thematically isn't bad and it involves aspects such as the triad coming home and what the lengths we go to prove our love for another human being. In particular Ken Lo's Tai is a compelling character to follow and one of the better played scenes takes place at a nice family gathering that also his prisoners, So and King, becomes part of. The Thai location offers varied settings and after escaping from Tai, So & King ends up at a bizarre nightclub while Tai has to chase them down again. This shift in locations is a good example of the fact that Runaway doesn't know when to stop and concentrate on one thing.

Nick Cheung and Samuel Pang does not carry this movie particularly well and Nick's attempt at comedy doesn't work for this Western viewer. Whether or not he's the next big thing in comedy, he still has a long way to go before he can rival the likes of Stephen Chow. I can't say I've disliked him in previous films but looking at Runaway, there's a distinct lack of charisma in him. As I've said, it's the supporting players that come out on top, especially Anthony Wong and Ken Lo. Anthony, in a nice twist on his screen persona, gets a written arc that's more human than about being the biggest, meanest triad out there (although Tony can achieve wonderful things with a character like that that as well). He's a man willing to put his entire being into making him and Ching work and Anthony nicely brings Ray down to a level where he's very unsure of himself. That leads to a few endearing, honest and also bizarre moments where he has to go to extreme lengths to prove his love. Ken Lo may never become a leading man but he's become a decent supporting actor over the years, even when not showcasing his famous kicking. It's a gentle and sometimes very funny portrayal of the familybound kickboxer Tai by Ken. Again have to mention Joe Lee that also gets a chance to create more of a character, a very funny one at that.

I swear I've never felt or said this before about any movie but I have no idea what I just saw. I know it was Runaway directed by Dante Lam but why or what it really was about, I don't know. I do know that it's a disappointment after Dante's excellent Jiang Hu - "The Triad Zone".

The DVD:

The 1.85:1 presentation by Universe is pretty acceptable. Clean print but colours come out as dull and slightly muddled. That changes from scene to scene at times as well.

The Cantonese 5.1 Dolby Digital track is lively and uses the entire soundfield when applicable. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles presented no problems aside from one or two spelling errors. Again, Universe opts to place them partly below the frame which isn't preferable for us widescreen owners. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

The Making Of (6 minutes 3 seconds) is, as per usual, unsubtitled but doesn't seem to provide much information about the movie. Mostly it's devoted to behind the scenes clips and there is some amusement to be found in those. In particular, Nick Cheung filming his bungee jump.

Star's Files for Nick Cheung, Ruby Wong are reasonably informative but Anthony's is disappointingly brief, considering he's done much more in the industry than the other two. Trailers for Forever And Ever, Everyday Is Valentine, Gold Fingers and Runaway are also on the disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson