The Moss (2008)

Directed by: Derek Kwok
Written by: Derek Kwok, Lung Man-Hong & Clement Cheng
Producer: Li Kuo-Hsing
Starring: Shawn Yue, Bonnie Xian, Louis Fan, Shi Xue-Yi, Siu Yam-Yam, Liu Kai-Chi, Gill Mohindepaul Singh, & Eric Tsang

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 Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2009:
Best New Director (Derek Kwok)

Jan (Shawn Yue) is an undercover cop that asides from wishing to participate not too highly in the actual work, has made a connection with Mainland prostitute Lulu (Bonnie Xian). He may see her as an outlet for urges but she IS his strongest connection. Soon a green emerald will trigger events that makes Jan part of a triad war. Lulu's underage cousin Fa (Shi Xue-Yi) is also brought in from the Mainland to make money and strikes up a connection with a beggar (Louis Fan - Story Of Ricky) but that beggar is also a hired assassin. The events as played out has Lulu ending up in a coma, Jan finding out he might be the father of her child and little Fa in the hands of the beggar. All while the different triad fractions and foreign robbers also occupy this playing field...

Derek Kwok is back after rightfully receiving good notices for his debut The Pye-Dog, the story of the unlikely characters of a triad, a mute kid and his Mandarin teacher coming together and touching hearts. While problematic in some instances, such as in the over the top visual style (as created, not shot), ultimately Kwok went for simple depth that in the end also benefited his debut. Symbolizing matters again, now via the explanation of the moss-plant in the synopsis (and in The Pye-Dog the surroundings were falling apart, very damp and there too), we do feel like we're looking at the second of a possible three movie series dubbed "The Crumbling/Fairy Tale Trilogy". While it's not a bad thing Kwok is back so soon, nor that Kwok is taking up his complexity to a logical, suitable level, it IS bad thing that across the board we don't feel affected.

Kwok again displays what seemingly is an obsession with fairy tales that weaves into the human matters as well as symbolism (either shown or spoke of) to a rather big degree but The Moss tends to blend its elements rather well that prevents it from "elevating" into pretentious arthouse fare. Because there is a fair amount to discuss, a fair amount of positives even, despite the final tally. We're now acknowledging the fact that Kwok's view (through DOP O Sing-Pui's eyes too) is of a particular old side of Hong Kong (it's being said the film takes place in the area of Sham Shui Po) so the crummy, crumbling surroundings isn't obvious make believe for the movie. Even when throughout adding tons of grain and green filters to connect firmly to the English title, Kwok gets full acceptance that the world can look and will look this way. Even darkly comedic and actually light, as demonstrated by Liu Kai-Chi's triad boss both wearing a bullet proof vest and helmet to protect him from assassination, in the where Jan has bought a few bootleg cd's that won't function as well as he like and the actual way the green emerald gets firmly introduced into the plot. Kwok knows off-beat and poo-poo jokes.

Within this we then meet our titular moss-characters, some not quite on the level of that plant, some that are but notions of providing and finding your own way of care-taking is the larger theme present. Within this very violent and explicit frame, there's Shawn Yue's Jan, a sort of echo of the stock undercover cop character in films (1*) whose mingling with the "elite" never really stopped. His loyalties seems divided between the sides of the law and never for a minute does Jan think of his actions setting his fate into stone. It takes the issue of a possible child being brought into the world that makes Jan think but we sense him and many of the characters will have to settle for either the righteous/doomed choice. Choices that do indeed blend together. Which ones have an opportunity still? Louis Fan's beggar, Shi Xue-Chi's underage prostitute or her older cousin Lulu? There are indeed trees to be chopped and flowers to be grown, again symbolism that you easily get on board with. But ultimately the dark plights aiming to be heartfelt are only solid in that department. Something that is a miss-aspect to The Moss.

But a watchable, totally professional and fairly well thought out experience it is, with Kwok casting the hard worker Shawn Yue to good effect. Yue is in development and clearly WANTS to develop so this is a performance that isn't forced, it is suitably gritty but here perhaps lies the key that made The Pye-Dog successful overall. The leading man casting not being enough to bring the intended emotions out. Derek Kwok however shows he's no moss or a tree. There is a slowly growing flower I can tell and I sincerely hope it will continue to. His visual tools aren't always standard or forced but are being shaped into personal ones for Kwok. Now with The Moss under his belt, I would have to say he's in a slow development, not the highly promising, fast one his debut showed.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Clear and clean, the green filters and grain also comes off as intended.

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. The Cantonese options offers up a mixed language track, mainly incorporating Mandarin as well.

The English subtitles feature an error or two but are overall thoroughly coherent. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras are spread over the 2 discs, with Mei Ah's useless Databank (containing the plot synopsis from the dvd case and a basic cast & crew listing) residing on the first platter. On the second disc where only the trailer for The Moss is subtitled in English, we find a Making Of with a whopping, for a Hong Kong dvd, running time of 54 minutes, 25 seconds. Seems to follow the standard template for these programs despite.

Deleted Scene (12 minute, 31 seconds) presents as far as I could gather 6 deleted and 6 extended scenes. Trailers for An Empress And The Warriors, Red Cliff and Besieged City finishes the disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson


(1) And he's played the younger Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Infernal Affairs as well, a character in a similar situation.