Besieged City (2008)

Directed by: Lawrence Lau
Written by: Frankie Tam, Dennis Chan, Leung Tak-Shun, & Chucky Kou
Producer: Dennis Chan
Starring: Tang Tak-Po, Wong Hau-Yun, Wong Yat-Ho, Joman Chiang, Jonathan Cheung & Ng Shan-Tat

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2008:
Best New Artist (Wong Hau-Yun)
Best Art Direction (Yank Wong)

Lawrence Lau seems to be viewing youths and their surroundings in a bleak manner still as Besieged City easily tracks back to his 1988 debut Gangs and 2000's Spacked Out. But after giving us a beautiful, light, temporary sayonara with Gimme Gimme in 2001 only to emerge as Lau Ching-Wan's cheerleader for My Name Is Fame 5 years later, Lawrence Lau is now concerned again. Directing his concerns towards what's called the "City Of Sadness" but is in fact the area Tin Shui Wai, its common perception is that of constant social problems, crime and via Lau's eyes, it's highly inflicted upon the young, leaving no hope for light. Indeed very pitch black, Besieged City aims many times but manages to cause little good damage. Because there's an art in the pessimistic and it's a journey I personally don't mind taking. And sure, the film may act as a magnifying glass directed towards a part of Hong Kong in need of maintenance but there's no powerful cinema present when this time utilizing that message.

Played out partly in flashback, good student and caretaker of his sick mom, Ling (Tang Tak-Po) learns that his younger brother Jun (Wong Hau-Yun) is suspected of homicide and is in a coma. Gangs go after Ling as Jun has apparently in his possession drugs they want back. But as the past events play out, the apparent truth gets shaken about a bit...

Lawrence Lau is not kidding when he paints the bleak, gray, dark world of Tin Shui Wai and it's literally that we associate with the images as shot as well. Learning of Ling's daily life, it seems he has shut out the world, treating each death he sees as yet another and all that matters is for him to further his education. Fine, that's a light rarely present in the film but the reality is that Ling has been shutting out the world to the point where his brother has become a victim of it. Being bullied at home and school, Jun of course hooks up with the wrong crowd that can give him some sort of leverage in this world. But of course, it's part of a constant downwards spiral consisting of witnessing (and occasionally) taking part in crimes, drug abuse and rapes. As this is all hurled at us, you wonder what Lau's true storytelling purpose is because there must be some kind of theme and depth present other than the fact that he's saying Tin Shui Wai pretty much sucks?

It's certainly about the central relationship between Ling and Jun as we do hope for them to connect strengths and perhaps beat this world, about a sense of belonging that doesn't include loyalty in actuality but within these merely fairly powerful images, Lau acknowledges only. As for himself, he takes a step back even to reveal that he can't go for the jugular yet again when presenting his concerns the hard way. Introducing a baby at points and a sister relationship, with both being subjected to incest, dramatic intentions go flat when Lau can't even immerse his young, mostly new cast to good effect. Indeed, we just know now that Tin Shui Wai sucks. If it's a fair assumption, I can't say but cinematically, that is all that is said. Coming from Lawrence Lau, I expected more.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.83:1 approximately, with anamorphic enhancement. Transfer seems to reflect the intended lack of colours and the grain very much seems to be part of a design.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Cantonese DTS 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 feature little errors and presents a fully coherent translation. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras come in the form of an 10 minute, 59 second Making Of (no subtitles), the trailer and Mei Ah's 99,99% of the time crappy Databank (containing the plot synopsis from the dvd cover and a cast & crew listing).

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson