On The Edge (2006)

Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Herman Yau, Jacky Wong & Sawada
Producer: Ng Kin-Hung
Starring: Nick Cheung, Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Rain Li, Derek Tsang & Chan Chit-Man

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Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2006:
Film Of Merit

Cop Harry-boy aka Harry Sin (Nick Cheung) has been placed inside the triads as an undercover for 8 years. Finally it comes to an end when he successfully brings down triad boss Don Dark (Francis Ng). The full transition back to the cop life as he envisioned it comes with several backlashes however as he's now looked down upon in both camps, getting only a fairly workable working relationship with his new, just AND violent partner Lung (Anthony Wong). But in reality, Harry has nothing left and is falling...

Detailing just how bad things can get after you successfully scores on your undercover mission, Herman Yau's first of 2006 is an unusually star intense vehicle coming from him. Although it's not a stretch of the imagination at all to think the likes of Nick Cheung, Anthony Wong and Francis Ng would appear in a lower in grade quickie. After all, at least two of those mentioned actors have participated in more than their share of whoring disguised as movie roles but we like 'em anyway! We also like Nick Cheung escaping from his wannabe stint at Stephen Chow-esque stardom into solid dramatic territory acting-wise and On The Edge gives us perhaps his finest performance yet, in yet another merely competent Herman Yau crime-drama. Having said that, we also like Yau's consistency!

Working with long time crew such as producer Ng Kin-Hung, cinematographer Puccini Yu and composer Brother Hung, you still wouldn't expect an unusually low-key venture from Yau. Treading familiar ground by mixing past and present, triad activity and police procedure, at heart lies a small scale human drama where Yau directs his lost lead character in a strong, quiet fashion. Being literally lost between two worlds containing their respective ounces of justice and righteousness, Nick Cheung portrays Harry-boy with a very solid, intense dramatic touch. Absorbing the various jabs, he's about to reach a boiling point that surely will require him to scream out but that's warranted, especially in Herman Yau's level headed directed frame.

Arguably the best scenes are the initial ones where Harry is transferred back to his "true" self but there's a fear that the recurring look into the past isn't an effective builder for the very strong scenes in the present. It's all about triad activities, confrontations combined with the undercover angle done to masterful effect in other films (primarily City On Fire) but to be very fair, the work here ranks as fair as well. Yau certainly doesn't spend a great deal of time slowly building the change in Harry over the years and pretty much fails with his romance angle concerning the character of Cat (Rain Li). The drama simply plays better with Harry stuck between the two fractions of cops and triads, not trying to show his new face in front of his love that happens to be a very shallow and in a way also trapped girl. It's still not a worthwhile tangent as the exploration halts at its very basic meaning.

But even with some overdone emphasis on visuals and audio, On The Edge presents the character dilemma in a compelling way, slowly starting to blend in the Bruce Law car- and bike action Universe wanted to sell the movie with. Herman is still clear in his focus but these sudden bursts of mayhem and violence does fine things for the atmosphere. Even an affecting aura is eventually achieved thanks to a terrific Anthony Wong speech at the end that really does spin the perspective all the way into the viewer's mind. The questionable antics of Lung speaks to a righteousness overall since he is one that is prone to violence but has his eyes open more than anyone else amongst the beat cops or shallow bureaucrats. So Nick Cheung develops, Anthony scores and in what is a rather small supporting role, Francis Ng flashes a little of the ol' flamboyance and edge to make the proceedings watchable. At the same time there's minor traces of a less dangerous but correctly tuned triad boss in terms of righteousness. Traits an actor of Ng's range can nail easily. Derek Tsang (star of AV, co-writer of Isabella and the son of Eric Tsang) takes the standard role of the loyal brother to not so much surprising heights but carries himself to a bearable degree as his world starts spinning after the reveal of Harry-boy's hidden agenda.

Despite the horrible poster art for On The Edge, Herman Yau opens this particular production year amongst his usual competent grade but still manages to rise slightly above it by employing a, for him, rare low-key stance to his material, focusing thankfully on character, drama and themes. It just goes to show that standard efforts are worth commanding and Herman Yau has indeed long been one of Hong Kong cinemas most underrated filmmakers. As expressed in the film, some give up early and some stick with it. Yau has lived by the latter mantra and has shone a little light of respectability on himself for some time. You gotta appreciate that.

The DVD:

Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The presentation does well for itself as the print is clean while sharpness, colours and blacks comes off well.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.

Only minor errors resides in the English subtitles that otherwise seems like a true, coherent translation of events. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Some standard supplements appear and this time Universe saw fit to provide them with the same subtitle options as the feature. The Making-of (8 minutes, 2 seconds) is pretty generic as far as these things go. Actors speak of characters, praising their fellow co-stars but an endorsement from Nick Cheung about supporting local films is worthwhile to have. Some decent behind the scenes footage appear, including a lot from the Bruce Law action but as the set footage closely resembles the final film footage (including angles), its emphasis seems a little redundant.

(Left, Nick Cheung and Derek Tsang. Right, Herman Yau and Anthony Wong, from the Making-of)

Gala Premiere (8 minutes, 27 seconds) is as usual a tacky event with a female announcer dishing out remarks such as, according to the subtitles "The characters are cool and smart" and "Who acts better? Anthony or Francis?". At least the latter two recognize the fact that they're getting inane questions, their answers are amusing. An insane inclusion is the handing out of chocolate by models while the rapid fire announcer continues on her path to becoming part gossip reporter. It's always refreshing in a way though to see these events being rather casual (especially in regards to the star's wardrobes). Positive audience reactions concludes the program but as for actual movie insight, you'll find nothing here.

Universe have moved on from featuring even short biographies in their Star's Files nowadays so actors Nick Cheung, Anthony Wong, Francis Ng and Rain Li merely get filmography listings. More Attractions contains trailers for Re-Cycle, We Are Family and the one for On The Edge is also represented in an individual menu option. The disc concludes with a 20 page Photo Gallery, mixing movie stills and behind the scenes photos in a welcome fullscreen presentation.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson