When night falls on Hong Kong the fate of the many is decided by the few, as the gang leaders and their people scramble to make a stand. Personal vendettas collide with old fashioned honor and modern practicalities, and the reign of the city will fall to whoevers left standing in the end...
Jiang Hu arrives at a time when the Hong Kong movie industry still appears fresh and invigorated in the wake of the successful Infernal Affairs trilogy. It tackles a good old fashioned genre, the triads movies, with new-found gusto, and it stars a host of respected Hong Kong actors.
The story centres around two old friends and their life in the underworld.
As his wife gives birth to a boy, gang leader Mr. Hung (Andy Lau) realizes that his life is forever changed. His lieutenant, Lefty (Jacky Cheung), urges him to pass over control of the business, and move away from Hong Kong, now that he has both a wife and a son that can be used a collateral. In fact Lefty has already made arrangements for his future reign, ordering hits on three other crime bosses, contrary to Hungs wishes.
But then word gets out that a hit has been ordered on Hung. Within the next 12 hours somebody will try to kill him. The contract has gone out to somebody completely unknown, so Hung and his men have no way of knowing who theyll need to look out for. They have no choice, but to wait.
Simultaneously we follow the trials of two low-life gang members. The oddly committed Yik (Shawn Yu) and his laid-back sidekick Turbo (Edison Chen), who has been singled out for a very important mission: The hit on a big gangster boss.
Before the break of dawn, the fate of these people will merge. Who will die and who will walk away? Only one thing is certain: The streets of Hong Kong take no prisoners.
I had high hopes for Jiang Hu. Very high hopes, but they were quickly squashed. The first 10 minutes left me so confused about characters and plot that I almost stopped the film. Good thing I didnt, because I would have missed out on an intense little gem. To be fair, I didnt even read a synopsis of the film before I saw it. If youve read the paragraphs above, youll already be better off than I was. Still, the film throws us into the deep end, introducing virtually all important characters within the first 10 minutes. The opening is a bit chaotic, but slowly a kind of ease falls upon the film.
Jiang Hu reminded me of Johnny Tos brilliantly subdued PTU (theres even a little nod to PTU, courtesy of a cameo from Lam Suet). I like the idea that even the greatest men will have their fate decided on a single night. Everything in life comes down to a single moment, or a single decision.
Jiang Hus limited running time doesnt really permit it too much goofing around, so the story feels very compact. But that still doesnt make it an actionfilm. Despite a few scenes with violence, the characters spend most of the time waiting. But, damn! Waiting has never been more interesting.
Hung and Lefty spend most of the night enjoying a quiet dinner. Just two old friends, sharing a simple meal. The once mighty gangster, who favours a thoughtful intimidation of his peers, and the reckless number 2, wholl put a bullet in anyone his cant control or doesnt understand.
Despite some rather distracting prancing around with the camera, this is a fantastic scene! I imagine Hong Kong residents must feel a bit like I felt, watching that scene from Heat, where al Pacino and Robert De Niro first meet. Nothing is quite as exhilarating as watching two great actors you know so well, in perfect command of their craft.
Meanwhile Yik and Turbo wait for the right time to strike. Yik develops a foolish crush on a hooker, and the pair try to get a hold of a gun. Im still not completely happy with Shawn Yus acting skills and Edison Chen is just goofing around most of the time, but their scenes have a sense of rookie recklessness that works quite well, all things considered.
Jiang Hu is saturated by a great atmosphere. The film feels like a giant chess game, where the pieces are slowly moving into place. Everybody knows what they have to do. Everybody has a game plan. But by the time they realize that theyre checkmate, its too late. As the film gets closer to the inevitable showdown, a moody feeling creeps into the story. A kind of sadness that only comes when you are about to lose somebody you care for.
Technically the film is close to perfect.
The cinematography really impressed me. Its simply stunning. Theres nothing quite as beautiful as a neon-clad city, surrounded by darkness. Hong Kong by night has never been more vividly illustrated. You can almost taste the city, and you can almost feel the rush of its blood in your ears.
Jiang Hu presents us with some beautifully staged scenes, with great use of slow-motion and spectacular use of colors. Even more surprisingly, the film knows exactly when to pull its punches. Sometimes a simple fade to black followed by the sound of a gunshot can be just as effective, as actually seeing somebody get shot.
Slowly but definitely Jiang Hu gets better and better. In the final moments the film even pulls an ace out of its sleeve, in the form of a twist thatll change the way you look at the whole story.
If it wasnt for the shaky opening, Jiang Hu would be right up there with Infernal Affairs and PTU. As it stands now, itll have to be content with being pretty damn close.