The Wild Ones (1989)

Directed by: David Lam & Francis Sung
Written by: Nam Yin
Producer: David Lam
Starring: Olivia Cheng, Irene Wan, Fennie Yuen, Charine Chan, Rachel Lee, Tommy Wong, Simon Yam, Terence Fok, Liu Fan, Victor Hon, So Hang-Suen & Tanny Tien

Treading similarly themed ground as his debut Goodbye Mammie and Women's Prison, co-director David Lam focuses again on one form of incarceration and rehabilitation, this time mainly set in a home for troubled/juvenile girls. While calculated and never really close to breaking out of an admirable standard quality, The Wild Ones further sets in stone Lam's reputation as solid personified. That's means a little something.

Social worker Sandy Kwong (Olivia Cheng who played one in Why Me? as well, against Kent Cheng and Chow Yun-Fat) decides to leave her line of work, boyfriend (Simon Yam) and martial arts classes in Canada to pursue the challenge of taking on cases in Hong Kong instead. Getting a position at an all girl's home, she's not appreciated initially but manages through unconventional, risky methods to turn matters around. Not easy when you have Mildred (Rachel Lee) who violently (with an emphasis on violently) hates her father's (Lau Siu-Ming) current woman, Kam (Fennie Yuen) and Smart Ass (Charine Chan) as girls having worked in and around prostitutes and Jane (Irene Wan) who's blamed by her father for the death of her brother. Something that has resulted in heavy abuse...

Many, if not all, including Sandy Kwong come from broken units as the opening reel showcases through its little mini-stories leading up to all main subjects being gathered up in one place. Sandy has lost contact with her mother and you should wonder based on an opening scene if she's over ambitious or even suitable as a social worker. Hong Kong doesn't seem to provide an easier time as the fast paced cutting between the girls show. It's not total misery but violence and tragedy looms over them despite, leading to scenes that definitely comes from David Lam's good eye for hard hitting violence. Working with action director Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Lam may not be Ringo Lam but is an underrated force when it comes to putting grit on-screen. You would be right in thinking that The Wild Ones opens up itself for criticism having to do with the story being preachy and certainly material is risky and calculated to take on. Thankfully directors Lam and Francis Sung keep focus on their story and characters that as mentioned produces solid and mood-wise, quite focused Hong Kong drama.

So as Sandy struggles to get co-operation out of the girls, self-respect planted in them and to connect them to their family units again, thankfully the choice in Nam Yin's script is not to put blame on a system that hasn't worked with the girl's home (or society for that matter). Sandy may be a saviour but it's meant to be seen as good timing, not a social commentary where Nam Yin throws daggers at government programs. What Sandy corrects though comes via firmly interacting, giving and getting tough love. It's a turbulent process rightly and as portrayed, rarely cheesy or cloying. In fact, we may not feel for the entire gallery despite adequate setups but even when using the regular Hong Kong melodrama tactics, the movie is affecting at points when characters are coming to self-realization, being threatened to derail again etc. In particular Rachel Lee, Lau Siu-Ming and Fennie Yuen becomes effective performers in this regard. The likes of Irene Wan does try way too hard however in a role she's clearly not ready for.

You never know until the end whether or not Sandy's point of view and tactic will have worked or what effect it's going to have. Edge of your seat tension therefore? Not really as the movie doesn't play the gory tragedy card heavily. The key word calculated overall does apply and while The Wild Ones can be admired for the serious stance it does take, the better effects taking it above average only come in bursts. It shoots itself in the foot towards the end as well when the directors decide to pay off the martial arts angle but it only feels like they wanted to warrant the presence of Tony Leung Siu-Hung. Despite that bad choice and a couple of classically dumb scenes where no one is saying what they logically should, The Wild Ones represents noble thoughts from a David Lam who by now proved that he, be it via drama, gory violence or real drama, could provide late 80s Hong Kong cinema with maturity.

The DVD (Deltamac):

Video: 1.70:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0.

Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.

Extras: None.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson