The real-life tale of Crippled Ho, a notorious drug-baron who, for most of the 1960’s, was the kingpin of the drug trade in Hong Kong.
Donnie Yen (Rogue One, IP Man) plays Crippled Ho as we follow his meteoric rise to power throughout the sixties in Hong Kong.
To say the island was corrupt back then is a vast understatement. Everyone from the local police, the British police and the triads were in on the lucrative drug trade.
It’s not until Lui Lok, Andy Lau (Railroad Tigers, The Great Wall), becomes the main Detective of Kowloon that things really take off though. He splits the wealth between all the interested parties and ensures in-fighting is kept to a minimum.
The British police meanwhile are untouchable and Ernest Hunt, Bryan Larkin (known mainly for his video game work), is the leader of the pack. They abuse who they please, they pull the strings on the drugs and they, ultimately, decide what’s what.
However, Crippled Ho isn’t down with that and wants to run the whole thing himself, though he’s mindful of the help Lui Lok gave him in the early years.
Things get personal between Ho and Hunt though and Ho has nothing but revenge on his mind. As a new anti-corruption unit is setup, the ICAC, the net closes in on the corrupt police at all levels and the gangsters themselves.
This is a wholly ambitious tale covering, as it does, the majority of Crippled Ho’s life when he was the kingpin of drugs in Hong Kong.
We first meet him when he’s been on the island for just a year and, along with his fellow brothers, is fighting to make money. Literally, $30 if they win, $20 if they lose.
The scale and breadth of the movie is astonishing, but it’s also it’s downfall. It’s too much, even for the two-hour runtime, and would have benefitted greatly from being a series or even two movies.
Sadly, it’s not, and so things get complicated, quickly and it can be difficult to keep up with exactly who is on which side and why and who is double-crossing who.
That said, despite Donnie Yen’s dodgy wigs, it’s a fine performance from him. He shows us a few of his moves but this is most definitely his announcement as a serious actor.
Lau, who also produced the movie, is superb as the corrupt policeman. Despite being corrupt, there’s something infinitely likeable about the character and a lot of that is down to Lau’s ability to make you like any character he plays.
The English-speaking actors are so-so, but this movie isn’t about them. It focuses heavily on Yen and Lau and is all the better for it.
Writer and co-director Jing Wong (an astonishingly prolific Chinese writer) and co-director Jason Kwan (better known as a cinematographer) provide an astonishingly visual piece.
The sets and CGI take you write back to the sixties and early-seventies and there are some fabulously long one-take scenes as we follow people through the back-streets of Kowloon, in and out of premises, the cramped streets providing ample cover for shady dealings.
The soundtrack is gloriously cool and funky. The subtitles are a bit of a joke however, the swearing in English is changed to non-swearing in the English subtitles (?).
Chasing The Dragon (a reference to the taking of the drugs), is a wholly ambitious movie about the real-life tale of a real-life drug lord in Hong Kong.
It can be complicated and its ambition doesn’t always pay-off, but it is chocked full of fine performances and very well directed. Worth checking out.
Chasing The Dragon is out on DVD 22nd January 2017
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