When we heard Anthony Wong was going to be in The Matrix Reloaded, we were pumped – finally, Hollywood had realised the talents of Hong Kong’s finest psychopath. Then, we discovered it was not the Anthony Wong, just an Anthony Wong – the highlight of this one’s career, like most Antipodean actors, was a guest role on Xena. As our small protest at this cruel deception, we present four movies from the real Anthony Wong…
Bloody Secret (2000)
Dir: Alan Chui
Starring: Ray Lui, Karel Wong, Lisa Lu, Anthony Wong
It’s never a good sign when the sleeve and the titles on a movie can’t agree what it’s called. Blood Secret or Bloody Secret? You decide… Either way, it isn’t really worth your time, not least because, despite Anthony Wong’s prominent cover pic, he dies before the first 20 minutes are up. Your interest will probably do likewise. He is a student in Japan, who stumbles across evidence proving the Japanese invasion of Manchuria was an act of aggression – still a big thing over there, largely because extreme right-wing groups in Japan still deny it, the Nanking Massacre, etc. One such group becomes aware of the evidence, but before they get Wong, he passes the disc onto a friend (Lui). The chase is then on, back from Japan to mainland China – who can he trust?
Does nobody know how to copy a floppy? Hey, this is the year 2000 – why not post the evidence on the Internet? Such logical steps escape the hero here. Instead, he heads back home for a particularly tiresome subplot involving his girlfriend, who has become a sleazy nightclub singer, in order to pay the medical bills of the hero’s father. Of course, her boss has ties to the rightists. Some of the action isn’t bad – unfortunately, just about everything else is deeply lacking in interest. On the plus side, I did get the bedroom tidied up while the movie was on.
Infernal Affairs (2002)
Dir: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
Star: Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang
The premise here is crisp: a cop team is investigating a triad gang, but each has an informer working deep undercover on the other side. Both try with increasing desperation to ferret out the mole, knowing the stakes are deadly. But all loyalties get blurred after ten years living a lie, regardless of whether you’re a policeman or criminal. Worse still, Ming the pseudo-cop is then given the task of finding the mole in the squad, when he is actually the culprit, which leads to Yan the pseudo-gangster being hung out on his own.
The script is equally worthy of credit, wringing out every drop of tension, particularly during an extended sequence as the police plot a raid. Information flows back and forth, plans are changed, suspicions raised, and several fingernails lost by viewers. This kind of thing is expertly handled, and both Wong and Tsang, police chief and triad boss respectively, are excellent, even though they only share one scene – it’s like seeing Pacino and DeNiro face off in Heat. Lau and Leung (fake cop and fake gangster) are less well-defined, and the attempts to give them a back story really don’t work. Luckily, it’s a minor subplot, and otherwise there’s rarely a dull moment. Warner Brothers paid $1.75m for the remake rights – likely starring Brad Pitt – but it’s doubtful they’ll be able to recreate the tension applied, as the story twists and turns to its unexpected conclusion.
Love to Kill (1993)
Dir: Billy Chung
Star: Anthony Wong, Elizabeth Lee, Danny Lee, Ha Ping
The same year also saw Wong and Danny Lee team up for The Untold Story, and this subsequent knockoff shares much the same strengths and weaknesses: Anthony good, woeful attempts at “comedy” bad. Within five minutes, his character, a lawyer called Sam, is tying up a woman, putting a plastic bag over her head, and violating her with a beer-bottle. Oh, and it’s his wife. She escapes, finding refuge with cop Fireball Hung (Danny Lee), but only makes things worse, as Sam thinks she’s cheating on him. He kidnaps her mother and their young son, intending to wipe everyone out, just as his father tried to do to his family (that’s as deep as the psychology gets in this one).
From the very first shot, it’s clear Sam is totally loony, and Wong plays it to the hilt, all stares and blue-lit intensity. The contrast with his job as a lawyer is nicely handled, especially when he starts using Hung’s temper against him, and more of this would have been welcome. Especially if it cut into the dreadful humour involving Hung’s girlfriend. I can’t imagine someone said “what this movie really needs is a comedy slut,” but we get one, and in contrast to most, her death isn’t nearly painful enough. The final conflict between husband and wife is fabulous, creepy and brutal; you just wish there had been this level of intensity throughout. Oddly, the end credits roll over a series of scenes which don’t appear to be in the movie – is a director’s cut available somewhere?
The Mission (1999)
Dir: Johnnie To
Starring: Simon Yam, Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Francis Ng
For an action movie, there’s a lot of sitting around in this one. That’s because it’s about a group of bodyguards, hired by Frank (Yam) to protect his ‘brother’ Lung from assassination. The five, initially disparate characters – Curtis (Wong) is plucked from his regular job as a barber! – eventually grow into a close-knit team, and solve the ongoing conspiracy…just in time for Frank to drop the bomb. He discovers that a member of the squad has had an affair with Lung’s wife, and demands that Curtis kill the cuckold in retribution.
This is cool, perhaps more so on the emotional level than as a description of the film. It doesn’t immediately grab you, creeping up lightly on its tip-toes: indeed, it’s perhaps one you’ll look back on more fondly than when you were watching it, since it often seems confusing and over-loose. This is particularly true in the action, which has a staged feel; on occasion you might need to rewind it, just to work out just what’s going on. But the acting from the four mentioned atop is excellent, though beyond them, there isn’t sufficient to differentiate the characters. Perhaps the key moment is when the bodyguards start kicking around a scrunched-up paper ball in an impromptu footie session. As a metaphor for the tedium of their work, and the bond they’ve formed despite it, this is a simple and elegant moment of genius.