Action / Thrillers, Comedy, Films, Hong Kong, Recommended posts, Reviews

Gangster Payday

This crime-comedy throwback to the era of classic 90’s Hong Kong gangster films is a startlingly enjoyable caper…

Gangster Payday is one of those rare films recently out of Hong Kong where everything just feels… right. There have been a lot of this and misses in frequent years, with stellar titles such as Aberdeen contrasted with the failings of Iceman 3D or Hardcore Comedy. 2013’s Triad was a moderately disappointing clash of genre clichés, however director Lee Po-Cheung retains enough originality and innovation, whilst heralding back to the golden age of Hong Kong ganster films, to create something that not only feels fresh but is also genuinely funny and a delight to watch, leading you to wonder where the film leads next.

Anthony Wong plays retired Triad leader Brother Ghost; honourable, stoic and harmless to a fault. There is little in the way of guns or violence in sight, as Ghost instead runs a karaoke bar and refuses to go near the ‘hard stuff’ of drugs or violence that is atypical to Hong Kong gangster films. Surrounded by his commandants Brother 2 (Chan Wai-man) and Uncle B (Ng Chi-hung), Ghost films himself falling on tough times as the health spas and karaoke bars they own are now falling in custom, that is until Charlene Choi daintily bounces onto the scene.

Local teahouse owner Mei (Charlene Choi) is down on her luck, looking for staff, and being harassed by rival Triad chief Bill (Keung Hon-man). For better or for worse, Anthony Wong takes a shine on the poor girl and decides to sweep her under his wing and the protection of all their brothers. Ghost reckons his luck is in, slyly eyeing up the young lass whilst hoping to sow the field, however Mei’s heart has already been stolen by Leung (You-Nam Wong) when they first met at Ghost’s karaoke bar. Thus is spawned the hilarious love triangle that Gangster Payday primarily leads upon, with the three characters skirting around the affections of one another whilst rival gangs, Brothers and ex-wives get caught up in the maelstrom.

Wong’s acting throughout is cocky and suave, constantly playing the charming older male whilst mentoring all his Brother’s and attempting to court Mei. Choi’s air of no-nonsense is reciprocated in that of Ghost’s ex-wife Carrie Ng, a surprising appearance in a film smattered throughout with appreciated cameos. Altogether, Gangster Payday is a very enjoyable film that survives well upon the acting of its characters, and the spectacular scripting. There is little to say about the camerawork or audio, as both are simplistic that neither detracts from the narrative, or intrude in any way. Their casual simplicity helps to craft a stronger film by allowing the audience to simply relax and get involved. Lots of close-up shots and evident Steadicam work creates an intimate experience that is far detached from regular expected Gangster movies, creating a much more emotional attachment with the characters and deeper involvement in the film. We feel included in their stories and an additional character, not merely an outsider on the fringes of their lives.

For all of Gangster Payday’s wonder, it’s pace is hardly swift, and at times the genre flops about as you wonder whether this truly is a gangster film, or you’re watching Anthony Wong sordidly hit on a girl half his age whilst his aged friends run a teahouse (who you really assume should be playing mah-jong instead of getting into fights with local gangs). This is hardly Wong’s first triad film, and he carries a lot of the comedy in the film, being an intricate element to the plot as all the characters and scenes rotate around his performance. This over-reliance on Wong is another falling of the film, and I felt disappointed at the criminal underuse of Charlene Choi and You-Nam Wong (who performed beautifully in Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After last year and really deserved more screen-time to get his teeth into). Overall, Gangster Payday is a very nice film that echoes of the golden era Hong Kong gangster films we’ve all grown so fond of, however Lee Po-Cheung’s meandering from over-worn stereotypes is perhaps as frequently off par as much as it scores.

Gangster Payday screens at the 2015 Udine Far East Film Festival on Wednesday 29 April. The festival runs from 23 April to 2 May.

About the author

Andrew Daley
News Editor for easternKicks, and a Video Producer for Cycling Weekly based in London, with a passion for East Asian cinema, photography, and the outdoors. Read reviews/articles »
Read all posts by Andrew Daley

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