Off Track (1990)
Directed by: Cha Chuen-Yee
The first of many collaborations between director Cha Chuen-Yee and writer Rico Chung (best projects of theirs being the Once Upon A Time In Triad Society-movies), it's early and they are trying to make their mark dramatically but Off Track is in no way a distinct standout. Satire and dark exploitation proved more their game. A triad/racing/romance/miscast family drama didn't.
Elite racer Lui (Jacky Cheung) gets into a conflict with rival Joe (Max Mok) and things doesn't turn out smoother when Lui's sister Ann (Rachel Lee) falls in love with Joe. Essentially a triad conflict all this, Ann is caught in that and the one between Lui and his cop-dad (Wu Ma). Feeble notions of honor, loyalty and brotherhood of course begin to draw these characters closer to tragedy...
No twist on the triad-genre occurs despite showing Lui and company racing cars. What follows is the usual restaurant confrontations with fellows gathered, loud exchanges and over the top behaviour by both big brothers as well as followers. It's not fresh in the least and a horribly miscast Jacky Cheung as a triad heavy in a conflict with his dad doesn't play to the charming, at times manic and dramatically strong sides to the actor. Cheung could go over the top in successfully in With Or Without You but no such luck with Off Track. Lui leads a group who's gone so far they never hesitate to mess with the police, Lui feels affectionate towards a girlfriend (Ellen Chan) when only he feels like it and bringing up the idea of marriage to such an unsympathetic character of course proves to be a disaster. I have no problems with unsympathetic characters but Lui's tragic fate isn't very interesting, even when he shows affection for a family member eventually. Far too deep into the triad life and the very unreal notion of pure brotherhood, I'm sure writer Rico Chung is making his point here but I'm merely being nice mentioning it because no freshness or engagement is to be found.
Equally shallow and uninteresting becomes the participation by Rachel Lee and Max Mok with the former trying admirably well though as a family member who sees blame in both her brother and father but the subsequent rival romance has no spark. Problem with all of these characters are that lack of definition and Cha Chuen-Yee insists to initially set them up as stereotypes. The next step would then be to gradually develop but even that he skips in a quick-cut, crucial montage of violence that demonstrates further descent down that tragic spiral.
It's wrong to employ a fast energy and although the racing scenes are acceptable fireworks, Off Track is an uninteresting, melodramatic trek upwards for us while bland characters do their best to go down and drag others with them. It's no news to anyone. Cha Chuen-Yee and Rico Chung managed to spin this topic of triads in their Once Upon A Time In Triad Society movies, right smack in the middle of that triad boom but they were older filmmakers by 1996. A starting point could be worthy of examination if you admire the latter skills but Off Track doesn't even prove it's worth in that regard.
The DVD (Winson):
Video: 1.33:1 (cropped from its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio).
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0, Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0.
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: Trailers for Undercover Blues, Grandma And Her Ghosts, X-Cop Girls and a Japanese movie with no English title.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson