Directed by: Billy Chung
Another entry in the Fortune Star distributed, shot on video movies to hit the market, at least one of the entries from Herman Yau (A Mob Story) took a well-worn story into entertaining, gory places. Bring in another low-budget, fairly hard worker in the form of Billy Chung (Love To Kill, Hong Kong Bronx) and the also well-worn undercover cop story/triad story and you get something basically competent. Not so much due to the story and genre being chosen but the person in charge of it rather. BC emerges in a minor way again.
Echoing an angle done not too long ago in Herman Yau's On The Edge, undercover cop Feng (Shawn Yue, another hard worker in the industry) enters, completes his mission and 4 years post knee deep in the triad world where he had to betray the boss (Ken Tong) he was working for, Feng carries a displeasure with him as no promotion is looming. Plus, he still hangs out with drug dealer friend Fai (Sam Lee) and during one night out whilst snorting cocaine, they get pulled over by a cop. A confrontation that ends with Fai shooting the cop dead...
In quick montage-form, Billy Chung fast forwards his way through Feng's descent into one hell and stops the film with him clearly in the midst of another. Establishing a line about taking responsibility for your actions, Billy's handling of very interesting material is interesting for a number of reasons. It's due to a confidence put forth about directing the character of Feng in somewhat of a quiet way. We sense the displeasure, a travel on the good ol' downwards spiral and as more backstory regarding what happened during key moments in his undercover days is provided, there's definitely a black and black nature evident in Feng. Neither sides of the law presents him with a optimistic option and the happiest moments may come whilst drunk but they are happier moments compared to being judged by his father. As Chung echoes all this, he also neatly displays the control lead Yue has over his craft as an evolving actor. Evolving being the key word and certainly the content is not revelatory and revolutionary despite solid presence on many the film's fronts.
But that's a challenge for a director and the option is given to Chung to make more than just a cop/triad quickie. Something he intends to and has small but notable success in doing. In actuality, one key aspect seems very lacking and that is a true, valid explanation about why Feng has held on to his friendship with Fai to the extent that he risks being caught with him alongside drugs. The disillusionment isn't truly well sold and while a key aspect is indeed close to failure, there is oxygen left in the tank for the film to at least appear sufficient during its very short running time. Especially during the first half where Chung as I said opts for subtlety in his frame and characters. The stylistic excursions that we sense will be a cornerstone in Chung's mind for Undercover are more suitably sparse during his first half with colourless tones and grain being used for flashbacks while dominating colour schemes appear surprisingly unforced in their attempts to flow with the character of Feng (1*).
But the overload takes over Undercover and that growth if you will, doesn't extend to the ultimate dark dilemma of Feng's. Billy Chung's dramatic intentions may have halted at sufficient but they halt so much earlier in the movie where indeed matters were interesting. That was as a starting point and not a final tally. As Feng re-examines his spiral (including seeking up his love Sandy played by Monie Tung), we're glad to be along for the short ride but wanted an escalating ride too. That was the intention given to Billy Chung. That was the intention by Billy Chung but not the execution showcased overall.
The DVD (Joy Sales):
Video: 1.78:1 (opening credits are 2.35:1 though) anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
Subtitles: English (well-worded with a few, select grammar- and spelling errors), traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: The trailer and a Making Of (19 minutes, 44 seconds) with the same subtitle options as the feature thankfully. The program's flashy framework detracts but as principal players behind and in front of the camera are interviewed, we get a decent sense for what inspired the film, its themes, why Andrew Lau chose Billy Chung as director and Creative Director Thirteen Chan chimes in with some stories about a troublesome prop on set. The behind the scenes footage is also therefore more watchable than usual during these programs. Beware that it does contain MAJOR SPOILERS.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) The cinematographer on the film was Daniel Chan. The director behind the acclaimed indie Slow Fade from 1999.