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szdaily -> Movies -> 
The Last Tycoon
    2013-01-04  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Gao Hu, Francis Ng, Huang Xiaoming, Sammo Hung

    Director: Wong Jing

THE latest surefire moneymaker from the prolific and profitable Wong Jing, Hong Kong’s answer to Roger Corman and Russ Meyer in one glorious package, is a bit of a surprise entry for the versatile filmmaker in that the iron grip it maintains on the hoariest of Hong Kong cinema traditions works to its favor. “The Last Tycoon” is the kind of demi-epic the industry cranked out by the dozen in the 1980s and early 1990s and it would appear Wong has found a way to marry the bombastic, sometimes underhanded heroism of that era with the 21st century Mainland-ready version of it. It also appears that Wong actually made an effort for producer Andrew Lau (“The Guillotines,” “Infernal Affairs”), and so “Tycoon” is probably his most polished and entertaining directorial outing in years.

    Asian superstar Chow Yun-fat plays Cheng Daqi, a man of humble beginnings who rises in the ranks of pre-WWII era underworld Shanghai to become a powerful gangster — or a “tycoon.” Just as his power peaks, the war breaks out and Cheng feels compelled to use his influence to beat back the Japanese. The story starts during Cheng’s youthful days in Jiangsu (where he’s played by Huang Xiaoming) with his budding opera singer beloved Ye Zhiqiu (Joyce Feng), and moves on to his involvement with Shanghai mob boss Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung) and ongoing thorny relationship with a dodgy army officer Mao Zai (Francis Ng). Years later Cheng meets up with Zhiqiu (now played by Yolanda Yuan) again, kick-starting a love triangle that proves to be the film’s weakest link.

    Nonetheless, and against all logic and better judgment, the film functions perfectly as an entertainment. Wong and co-writers Philip Lui and Manfred Wong take something of a scattergunned stance toward the script: it’s one part historical gangster actioner, one part love story and one part spy thriller (Zhiqiu’s husband is part of the resistance).

    No single element is fleshed out enough to really make a point but somehow Wong keeps the over packed narrative on track just enough to make it work as a whole. A great deal of credit needs to go to the holy trinity of Chow, Hung and Ng. Chow is thrust into countless deliberate mythmaking and/or myth-affirming action sequences, the least of which is a shootout in a church (including doves) and some honorable thief posturing that recalls an early Chow television series. Hung makes an entrance that could have been ripped from any of his best martial epics. Ng is Ng, holding onto his crown as Hong Kong’s most blissfully menacing actor.

    Technically “The Last Tycoon” is one of Wong’s more accomplished offerings, even with the film’s dire need for a new sound mix to combat the ear-splitting explosions (of which there are scores). The film looks impeccable: the production design, set decoration and costumes are pitch perfect and the Shanghai of the 1930s is convincing. As expected of a period epic there is no shortage of vivid set pieces — a rain-drenched assassination attempt, a brilliantly choreographed theater assassination and the aforementioned church gun fight. Wong manages to recall “The Killer,” “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “Bonnie and Clyde” so shamelessly that what comes out on the other side is a bizarrely comforting bit of nostalgia. Box-office success in China relies on Cheng’s anti-hero being more “hero” than “anti-” (Cheng becomes a banker at one point, somehow considered less shady than organized crime lord), but regardless “The Last Tycoon” ends up a diverting romp that makes no apologies for its entertainment-for-entertainment’s-sake attitude.

    The movie is now being screened in Shenzhen.

    (SD-Agencies)

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