Mongkok Story (1996)

Rating: B

Dir: Wilson Yip
Star: Edmund Leung, Roy Cheung, Anthony Wong, Choi Hiu-Yee

It’s hard to get a handle on this: is a triad movie, or a satire of them? Black comedy? Does any of it take place at all, or is it simply imagined? Regardless, it’s eminently watchable, right from the first time we see triad boss Ching (Cheung) – he terrifies members of a rival gang, by the simple act of pouring beer. It’s not his story, however, but that of underling Leung Ping (Leung), who goes from waiting tables to life at the very bottom of organised crime. There’s no glamour in the depiction here, which stresses the fragility of peace: the first domino topples when Leung Ping’s colleague starts a rumour about rival boss Liu Lone (Wong). From here, things escalate in an upward spiral of revenge that reaches surreal heights.

The performances are excellent, aided by an unexpected soundtrack with a lot of Spanish guitar, and a number of excellent moments, not least Lui Lone’s second life as an actor – check out his El Mariachi ripoff! However, the script doesn’t quite gel: Leung Ping loves his boss’s pregnant girlfriend, but after this is set up, nothing happens. There’s a lot of hand-held camerawork used, especially in depicting the violence on the streets (I suspect the terrified bystanders were perhaps genuine) and the end result is edgy, and offers a refreshing angle on the usual gangster cliches.