Year of release: 1998

Company: Golden Harvest

Genre: crime

Running time: 93 min.

Director: Alfred Cheung

Script: Alfred Cheung, Keith Wong, So Man Sing

Action directors: Deon Lam Dik-On, Guk Hin Chiu

Producer: Alfred Cheung

Cinematography: Tam Chi Wai

Editor: Mak Chi Sin

Music: Marco Wan

Stars: Francis Ng, Ken Wong, Alfred Cheung, Almen Wong, Christine Eng, Miriam Yeung, Anthony Wong, Chong Wing, Ken Lo, Simon Lui

Rated IIB for violence and language

Related links:

DVD Review
Francis Ng biography
Anthony Wong biography
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The Group

The Group

The Group follows a trend set forth by Quentin Tarantino's films (or perhaps, not set forth, but popularized) and perfected locally by the films of the Milkyway studio (Johnnie To's movies in particular) of presenting unique takes on the crime genre. While these types of films can be highly entertaining, directors must take care of not going overboard with the "quirk factor", and also making sure the rules of their particular worlds are followed. The Group falls apart on the second part of this rule; it starts out well, but ultimately tries to make itself more of a realistic action movie, and loses the viewer somewhat in the process.

The story follows a group of orphans who were raised by a kindly priest. Most of them grow up to be successful and lawful citizens (Anthony Wong's gangster being the black sheep of the "family") who try to repay the priest by carrying out a series of Robin Hood-style missions. The first one shown in the movie (after a canny bait-and-switch trick involving a movie set) displays a good sense of charm and style, as the group tries to stop a greedy landlord from kicking an old man out of his apartment. This first bit is breezy and fun; the cast all seem to be having a good time, and that feeling passes down to the viewer.

The Group

However, about halfway through the movie, the plot takes a more serious turn as the priest is killed while attending to starving children in Somalia. The group decides to rob an armored truck and use the money to feed the kids. Here, the film takes on a more realistic feel and it just doesn't feel right. Nothing seems to really gel during the second half. It's not horrible -- it's just very by-the-book, even down to the plot twists. Also, The Group succumbs to some very heavy-handed symbolism, even going as far as to paste a title card saying "They are all our children" at the end. If The Group had kept its' light tone throughout the movie, I feel it would have been more successful as a whole.

Still, I enjoyed The Group a good deal. The star power featured in the movie goes a long way in carrying it -- Francis Ng gives a delightfully sly performance, and this seems to be one of those rare films where Anthony Wong seems to be trying. Even though he really isn't in the movie that much, he manages to make the scenes that he is in that more interesting. Also, from a straight guy's standpoint, there is an awful lot of eye candy in the movie. Unfortunately, there's no boobs, but looking at a babe like Almen Wong is good enough in this case.

The Group is worth a look if you're into the "different" kind of crime movies. Despite its' flaws, it is still an enjoyable spin on the tried-and-true crime/action movie. Just don't expect anything on the level of Johnnie To's work.

The Group