Wo Hu (2006)

Directed by: Marco Mak
Written by: Wong Jing & Gary Tang
Producers: Wong Jing, Go Fung-Jun & Ivy Kong
Starring: Eric Tsang, Francis Ng, Miu Kiu-Wai, Jordan Chan, Qin Hailu, Julian Cheung, Sonia Kwok, Yueh Hua, Kenny Wong & Shawn Yue

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Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2006:
Best Screenplay (Wong Jing & Gary Tang)
Film Of Merit

Nomination at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2006:
Best Actor (Francis Ng)

Feeling the triads are starting to become more difficult to handle, the police, headed by Wai (Miu Kiu-Wai - Magic Cop, Hero of Tomorrow) decides to unleash something big. Not one, not two but a thousand undercover cops will infiltrate the triads. When subsequently one of them is killed, it calls for big action and the big guns within the gangs (mainly Jim, played by Eric Tsang and Francis Ng's Walter) need to seek out and protect their interests as best they can. There are however those wishing to break loose on their own...

Sending ripples through the fan community (not really but that's not the point as you'll soon find out), Wong Jing as it turns out is LIKED by the Hong Kong critics as evident by his consecutive screenplay awards from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society (1*). Having ventured into triad- and cops movie territory on quite a reoccurring basis lately, basically since Infernal Affairs broke, there's certainly nothing wrong to get something semi-cheap out there that tweaks the usual scenarios (not Wong's intentions usually). This time he goes seemingly big on us with his synopsis of a thousand undercover cops in the triad society. Directed by the often semi-decent director (and ace editor) Marco Mak with an associate directing credit going to Wang Gwang-Li (2*), a disjointed and at times tough to follow/swallow narrative still emerges as one of the better written screenplays to on-screenplays Wong Jing has been responsible for since Colour Of The Truth (which he co-helmed with Mak).

The two directing system if you will, has been a recipe for Wong Jing lately also and it's not a bad idea in itself to bring in someone not having previously been his production house slave. Not that Marco Mak comes from the A-list but he's been carving himself a rep and name on his own so his professionalism (having served as editor on landmark movies prior) is welcome. Despite getting into trouble early by literally referencing Infernal Affairs and working little interest out of the intention to work out interesting ways to introduce characters, Wo Hu (3*) is possibly consciously over the map but it's a gamble it does not always succeeds at. Threatening to go very triad on us with an overabundance of characters, the film eventually reveals charms, quirks, effective grittiness, a thematic transferred well onto paper by Wong and co-writer Gary Tang and/or also helped along immensely by director Mak. I can't quite make up my mind on that one but seeing as the humour is not of Wong Jing kind, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He actually wanted something out of Wo Hu and the guys certainly manages to get our heads turning, looking for details as to who might be an undercover cop and who is definitely not. If that isn't us on the hook, I don't know what is.

Much is as per usual when Mak's busy camera documents the streetlevel. Triads are young punks looking like they're applying for a job at the circus, young punks favouring disrespect and lawlessness while some levelheaded veterans have come out of all this. Eric Tsang's cool headed Jim manages to stumble over love (the character played by Sonia Kwok who has an easy going rapport with Tsang until some dopey writing towards the end) and Francis Ng's Walter is equally much the family man whose son may just know his father's disguised triad slang a bit too well for comfort. Ultimately elements are going to clash and lines between good and evil will be distorted but Mak and co. decides to have some fun with what often can be a bizarre triad world. Ng's Walter is mostly at center here, doning the often forced tough guy triad act that just can't be maintained when all manner of off-beat, bizarre events occur around him. At one point his fellows have gathered up a crew consisting of old men dressed up as young rascals and when his assets are frozen, he gets a first hand account of how easily your followers turn on you. Starting with running from the restaurant bill. So the triad world is turning itself in and out, for incompetent reasons but also due to, as also echoed in Johnnie To's Election, the fact that uniting will be the toughest task currently. Loyalty shifts like people change underwear, especially so after the crucial event of the murder of one of the insiders. Characters do become pawns in a game orchestrated by cops but it's a game gone far we sense and the words much love lost begins to form itself into an end sentiment.

Terribly intelligent stuff coming from Wong Jing and despite taking its sweet time to find itself being a linear narrative, a quirky comedy turning stoic genre notions on its head, violent killings and drama collide pretty competently in Marco Mak's frame. His camera sometimes feels it's being cool for the sake of it but aside from some forced nature to it early, Mak reverts to trickery that absorbs for some good story purposes but also for the sake of playing around. And that's ok. Thankfully, his best moments aren't about that at all and I guess he should be thankful to have Wong Jing's writing backing him up then. The veterans Eric Tsang and Francis Ng superbly embody that good writing as characters are a bit weary of the dark, smug world that normally doesn't include notions of love. Actual romance, love for your family and the sitdown these characters have at one point is a wonderful study of having great character actors merely touch upon these notions but making it grow into a big thematic of the film.

Not without its problems overall as mentioned, Wo Hu is a typical example that possessing an uneven nature isn't always the biggest crime if you perform your good bits quite, quite well. This all means Wong Jing has performed consistently throughout this production and director Marco Mak has planted seeds visually and story-wise in order for this obvious Infernal Affairs inspired beast to actually mean something. The look, the feel, the effect of the genre at hand is evident but other glimpses into the ordinary that takes place outside of genre constraint and character's occupation within the film makes Wo Hu a minor sleeper hit for the year of 2006. Perhaps the critics wasn't smoking something?

The DVD:

Joy Sales presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Minor dirt is on the print and what seems like a chosen, washed out look for the film feels represented sufficiently here.

The 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 English subtitles flow well overall, containing only minor slips into poor grammar and spelling. On a few occasions, one of the more profane words out there remains censored in the subtitles but there is no audio censoring to go along with it. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras are devoted to a second disc in the package and the setup menu reveals what more or less looks like a standard now from Joy Sales; the inclusion of English subtitles on the special features. First program Behind The Scene (11 minutes, 52 seconds) is more a random trip through various stages of shooting, mostly focusing on rehearsing and Marco Mak's direction. We also see Eric Tsang nicely leading a table of actors regarding approach to a scene and character while remaining helpful when working with Sonia Kwok too.

Deleted Scene goes on for 15 minutes, 27 seconds and if I'm counting correctly, consists of 10 deleted/extended clips. None are missed as such but notable expansions includes a scene touching upon how the selection process of the infiltrators should be handled, the harsh rules of the mission and a more pronounced scenario motivation-wise when it comes to Julian Cheung's heinous acts towards the latter part of the film. Of special note is a completely removed end twist concerning one character but it stretches believability quite a bit.

The traditional Making Of (10 minutes, 8 seconds) has the usual happy talk and basic character discussion but Wong Jing reveals some tidbits worthy of note. For instance associate director Wang Gwang-Li was more of the driving force behind the off-beat comedy in the film while Wong also gladly allowed the actors to talk characters with each others for hours if it would help boost performances. Apparently real life undercover cops are interviewed as well, sharing basic impressions of their schizophrenic experiences.

(Marco Mak directing actors Yueh Hua and Qin Hailun and right, on set)

A standard 15 page Photo Gallery follows, TVC is a 30 second TV Spot and the next substantial program is Interview (17 minutes and created for the Mainland market since all participants speaks in Mandarin). Going through Wong Jing and most of the cast, it is the former that gives us the sole meat of this program, elaborating more on his script intentions and the reason for bringing in Mainland director Wang Gwang-Li to provide a different kind of comedy to counterbalance Marco Mak's style as director. The actors merely meet and greet their viewing audience before being cut off although some mention is made about the different acting styles of Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese actors.

Premiere (13 minutes, 53 seconds) is the usual laid back, tiring charade that is awfully uncoordinated and even the actors at one point urges the organizers to get on with it. For once some glamour is injected though as Sonia Kwok shows up dressed for a premiere as well as the ladies Wong Jing brings. The trailer concludes a solid package that is more than just a little fluffy but the inclusion of the deleted scenes will rank as an interesting excursion for those who were into the movie.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Prior year it was the competent but standard triad mish-mash Colour Of The Loyalty, starring Eric Tsang's eyebrows.

(2) Wang directed Francis Ng in Karmic Mahjong and as associate director, as the dvd extras informs us, he was in on the actual directing, with the emphasis being on the comedy.

(3) The name of the undercover operation, translated in the subtitles as "Crouching Tiger", a symbolic gesture. Whatever.