The Underground Banker (1994)

Directed by: Bosco Lam
Written by: Jobic Chui & Cheuk Bing
Producer: Wong Jing
Starring: Anthony Wong, Ching Mai, William Ho, Karel Wong, Hui Pui & Lawrence Ng

Category III cinema and exploitation was a thing of beauty in the 90s in Hong Kong. Not only commercially viable but it was an outlet for technical and comedic creativity while also filmmakers poured it on with the sex and violence. Very well represented during the times Wong Jing and director Bosco Lam worked together, starting with the wild period-sex-torture comedy A Chinese Torture Chamber Story and taken to new, unashamed levels in The Underground Banker. Because who else has the idea of taking the real life serial killer Lam Gor-Wan (as depicted in 1992's Dr. Lamb) but creating a new story with him out of jail and now heroic. I'm guessing Wong Jing. I'm also guessing Wong Jing laughed himself silly thinking of it and so do we as part of the moody, emotional onslaught The Underground Banker is.

After getting into financial troubles, Kitty (Ching Mai) borrows money from the triads but as expected, the interest rate puts her in greater debt quickly. Forced to go into prostitution, she's hiding this from her husband Tong Chi Ming (Anthony Wong) who's trying to settle the family neatly into public housing. His worry though, their next door neighbour is Lam Gor Wan (Lawrence Ng)...

One of many Hong Kong movies, Category III or not, you can use a tester on unsuspecting audiences because if they appreciate the wildly entertaining mix of comedy, pitch black melodrama, shameless (but inspired comedy) and violence, you've made a friend and your movie nights are secured for a while. Bosco Lam crafted his said debut movie A Chinese Torture Chamber Story as a similar, free for all emotional ride that favoured the goofy, heinous, pretty, funny and not so pretty in a wild, very good looking production. The Underground Banker is expectedly more grimy though and even threateningly low budget. Meaning it's a way more flat frame but through sheer energy, will and dedication to pushing hard within each mood (in particular melodrama and violence) Lam makes his pitch black, oddly comedic time a riot and great ride to be on.

Certainly a minor man up-story, at first it's about getting Anthony's little man to last longer in bed, scenarios accentuated by sound effects for comedy. There are also perverts galore in this universe who have no qualms commenting on women's breasts (cue wide angled and wide eyed performances) and the parade of bad guy actors such as Karel Wong and William Ho signals a push. Dark or goofy is up to old and new viewers to discover. Obviously commenting on a social issue where the regular man fall victims to the underground loan sharks, it's commentary enough for you to notice but doesn't try to make it more important than the script scenario calls for.

The main, great switch in moods for The Underground Banker with its plentiful game performers happens as Bosco Lam takes us from the Lam Gor Wan introduction, through family tragedy to blood soaked revenge. Shamelessly inventing a storyline where Lam is now a reformed man, Lam has great fan directing Lawrence Ng in the most intimidating way possible and really places traits of Hannibal Lector in there too to great effect. Nothing seems like Lam is going to be a heroic presence here as his apartment is bathed in red and various tools of dismemberment.

But as some really dark drama and deaths play out in an affecting yet quite overdone manner drama-wise, Lam showcases with his excellent ending (letting violence and Lawrence Ng as Lam Gor Wan the slicin' and dicin' action hero take center stage) that he's in it for the entertaining, wild celluloid and that CAN mean throwing every thing against the wall and hoping it'll stick. For The Underground Banker, it's a delight going through the light AND dark because within it you have inspired pace, inspired wit and inspired skill which makes it stroll easily to the top of the list of reference material of the time. A time when adults only Hong Kong cinema was creative, inspiring and real life serial killers were made into heroes on screen.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson