Island Of Greed (1997)

Directed by: Michael Mak
Produced & written by: Johnny Mak
Starring: Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Andy Lau, Pauline Suen, Annie Wu, Kathy Gwok, Doze Niu, Chin Shih-Chieh, Wang Shui & Winston Chao

Buy the DVD at:

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1998:
Best Screenplay (Johnny Mak)
Best Actor (Tony Leung Ka-Fai)
Best Actress (Pauline Suen)
Best Art Direction (Raymond Lee)
Best Action Design (Yuen Bun)
Best Sound Effects
Best Original Song "Goo Sing Lui"
Music & lyrics by: Wu Bai
Performed by: Andy Lau

The political climate in Taipei, Taiwan gets heated when triad boss Chau Chiu-Sin (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) decides to run for the position of a legislative counselor. Having achieved massive wealth thanks to his gambling joints all over town, an elite team led by Fong (Andy Lau) sets out to bring down his gambling empire but has to follow through even more as Chau rises to power via illegal ways...

Another pair of ambitious brothers that really does only have one gigantic classic under their belt and that was when Johnny Mak logged his sole directing effort. That flick was Long Arm Of The Law and having Michael take care of directing didn't exactly make the subsequent in name only sequels reach same status. But fast forward past the involvement in Sex & Zen and To Be Number One, their to date last project Island Of Greed is big-budget, carrying with it a director who knows how to create big images of mayhem but combining it with politics results in a tedious experience that only occasionally sets off the fireworks, be it in action-mode or otherwise.

There's nothing to complain about in terms of goals and wants to achieve an intelligence quite few Hong Kong movies dare to reach (or reaches). Sprinkling a thoroughly competent professionalism over the picture via use of synch sound and an attractive scope frame, possibly I am lacking true insight to actually connect with a story set in the Taiwanese society but director Michael Mak overall faces a problem of making the entire spectrum distinctive and accessible. Looking at the politics at centerstage, there's certainly few surprises here as the world is infused with the notion that money makes the world go round. Tony Leung's Chau is therefore a very well-paying, bribing citizen but is not out to reform a society he see as corrupted by others. No, he's looking to take the triads out of stealth mode and into ruling positions, via any means possible (money mostly, not a constant ruthless gangster this). When director Mak focuses on Chau Chiu-Sin's electronic gambling empire, we see evidence of a filmmaker emerging that can put equally good focus on design and finding details. Case in point, a shot of a school kid doing his homework in the casino while the parent is glued to the slot machine gives us the age old but interesting view into a kind of social rot. What better way as a politician to use what people find comforting as your political agenda? The picture is painted and it's definitely not without interest.

But I have a problem with crucial plot elements such as the religious sect because again, it lacks distinction, causes confusion when we in reality want focus on those we recognize. And some characters we simply don't. Andy Lau's dedicated Fong we get glimpses of being all alone with only cats as company but it's more mandatory to feature this rather than it being gaining for Island Of Greed as a character-piece. Fong's team is also cardboard's in the whole scheme of things as well as Annie Wu's reporter who puts too many of her emotions into the stakes. When Michael does really well is when he breaks out of the tedium to really utilize his technical crew, ranging from Jingle Ma as one of the cinematographers to Yuen Bun as action director. The social rot gets manifested via a large scale riot between taxi companies and Mak strikes a balance between his two distinctive elements here.

Will righteousness come is a phrase used in the film but as we move along, Island Of Greed really offers up nothing more than a shallow representation of that phrase. Chau rushes towards power when he's established the comfort within his group and made sure it's trickled down to the citizens. Rivals are eliminated, Fong's quest for justice lies in grave danger and even though going really attractive and big towards the end. Mak loses track of the balance he once managed to nail well for a few minutes. Yes, while Yuen Bun earns his paycheck, the ending is right out of another really high-octane, big testicles action movie that says more about how Island of Greed could've worked rather than how it does. Mak could've gone out on a terrific high entertainment-wise and in the end his stars are one of the sole reasons to actually stick with the 2 hour running time. Especially Tony Leung is captivating as the icy, loud and passionate Chau, always stopping to stay within the range before going dangerously cartoony on us and earning elements such as his dog-like ticks at points. But when the supercop Andy Lau begins sharing the screen for the most amount of time with Leung towards the end, Island Of Greed finally seals its fate as an interesting opportunity but not a well-utilized one. Perhaps someone smarter will like it.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the movie in an aspect ratio of 2.45:1 approximately, with anamorphic enhancement. Minor wear pops up and the image looks smooth and natural, showcasing the striking design of the film well.

Shot in Mandarin, the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround option involves occasionally but can feel rather flat also, which seems like an attribute in the sound design itself. Ambient noise seems to come and go in one scene to quite noticeable effect. Other audio options are Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Cantonese DTS 5.1.

The English subtitles read well with only minor spelling- and grammar errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras are limited to the trailer and Mei Ah's black hole of a special feature called the Databank.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson