Laughing Gor - Turning Point (2009)

Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Yip Tin-Shing, Poon Man-Hung & Wong Yeung-Tat
Producer: Tommy Leung
Starring: Michael Tse, Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Felix Wong, Fala Chen, Koni Lui, Wayne Lai, Eric Tsang & Yuen Biao

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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2010
Best New Artist (Fala Chen)

A spin-off film based on the TVB series E.U. (Emergency Unit), it was the third installment by the station to bring to Hong Kong audiences a modern version of the popular Police Cadet '84 that brought to the small screen the presences of young Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung. The Academy and On The First Beat had preceded E.U and for the third go, actor Michael Tse was cast in a new (he played a different character in The Academy) supporting role playing triad boss/undercover cop Laughing Gor. In a twist that wasn't very predicted, Tse's character gained popularity and even more so after his death in the series. Savvy producing tactics shortly thereafter (including casting award winning veteran actors and an efficient director), the Anthony Wong/Francis Ng/Michael Tse vehicle directed by Herman Yau Laughing Gor - Turning Point entered but on the cinema scene instead. Yau delivers in a dependent way and makes fine use of his veterans despite the story of undercover hell being a craved out of the 1A template. But did it turn out Laughing Gor wasn't that interesting of a character? Something's up considering the fine usage of said veterans.

Laughing Gor is an undercover cop working for Inspector Xian (Yuen Biao) but when Xian is injured and falls into a coma, the only one who knows Laughing's true identity is on the verge of dying. A bust by the police leads to Laughing's arrest but he subsequently flees. He is a wanted man now by both sides and it's triad bosses One (Anthony Wong), who was once an undercover cop, and loose cannon Zatoi (Francis Ng) who's after his blood. Zatoi more than One who's acting as a kind of protector for Laughing. Dating Zatoi's sister Karen (Fala Chen) adds fuel to the fire but in flashback we learn that Brother One sent in Laughing as a mole in the police...

Presented by TVB and Shaw Brothers, reportedly the prequel movie and the TV series work independent of each other so those of you (like me) going into the "Laughing Gor" universe for the first time, we won't be too far behind. Yau launches quickly into a snappy pace and it almost feels like he's careful so that the TV fans won't feel it's too cinematic (very evident as the opening credits are pretty much done in a TV style). But there's no reason to complain about Yau creating an active, adrenaline-fueled frame during the initial operation leading to a smuggling bust. Despite veterans inhabiting the frame (a constantly eating Eric Tsang and Yuen Biao add class via their presences too), you wonder really how serious we can take the conflicts with the gang as Anthony Wong and Francis Ng look quite outrageous. Wong with various types of make-up and extravagant clothing on and Ng with a typically loud mouthed, obnoxious act coupled with a hair- and fashion sense that's very much his own. It's downright hammy what's on display here. The undercover hell featured in everything from Man On The Brink, City On Fire, Infernal Affairs, Wo Hu and Yau's own On The Edge gets no particularly revealing spin either but it's all very simple why Yau gets acceptance. Execution within his 1A template that matters, sometimes affect and even surprises. Yet that doesn't concern the main character of the film.

When the lines become even more blurred as to where Laughing Gor's loyalties lie, Yau puts the movie into a slower and trickier gear. It doesn't take that much attention and he pretty much explains the motivations for the ye ol' struggle for power within the triads that takes place but the writing is also kicked up a notch. Ironically the main subject of the film, of course Laughing Gor is far from the most interesting character. We've seen the torment before and while Tse is thoroughly competent in the role, it's very hard in this stage of the character to see where the audience impact came from. Moments dealing with said lines being blurred, like him stealing a police uniform and being saluted by a kid on the street aren't subtle but could've mattered more if Tse's character did.

There lies no problem in Yau directing his attention to One and Zatoi though. Instead moments such as Wong's One visiting Yuen Biao's Xian in the hospital talking of the downfall you take when going undercover vs. the loyalty and stability as a triad takes on poignancy. Plus it's delightful to see two veterans deliver calm dialogue in a simple setting and making it take off to subtle levels veterans can do. Even by this point, thanks to a number of flashbacks, we can put forth an theory as to why One dresses the way he does. My guess is defiance, an acquired freedom nit present before and isn't that special when a movie engages in that regard? Francis Ng is the big revelation though. Not that we don't expect quality out of him but the two sides of Zatoi (the obnoxious one vs. the protective one as he desperately want to shield his sister from the triad world) are both entirely believable and memorable coming out of Ng's act. Fala Chen as his sister and Tse's love interest also deserves a mention as there's clearly a maturity present in the actress that can take her places.

It takes three to deliver in the case of Laughing - Gor Turning Point and despite it sounding like it goes against the intentions of the movie, Michael Tse's Laughing Gor doesn't provide an effect (other than for fans I guess). Instead the award winning veterans and Hong Kong's workhorse number one delivers familiar tactics already seen and done by all the people involved. Yet the work survives and even gets points for effect and poignancy. That's why Herman Yau remains so criminally underrated even in 2010. Far from all directors in Hong Kong can deliver fast food this effectively. The logical next step would be a prequel for Brother One and Zatoi.

The DVD (CN Entertainment):

Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0.

Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.

Extras: All supplements are present on disc 2.

*2 trailers, 2 Making Of's (9 minutes and 4 minutes, 17 seconds respectively, no subtitles).

*Photo gallery (55 images) and an interview (25 minutes, 7 seconds, no subtitles) with Herman Yau, Anthony Wong, Fala Chen, Michael Tse, Francis Ng and Felix Wong.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson