image courtesy of Ritek
Year of release: 1996
This VCD is available for purchase at www.sensasian.com
War of the Underworld
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Image courtesy of Mei Ah.
After the success of Young and Dangerous, there was a slew of lookalikes that continue to this day. War of the Underworld is one of the more successful of these films, perhaps not coincidentally because it features some of the same crew and stars as Y&D. It also manages to keep a sense of humor about itself, which makes it a nice change of pace from many of the other "young triad" movies, which seem so concerned about being "cool" that they forget about actually making a good film.
Like other movies in the genre, War of the Underworld tells the story of a young gangster moving up the ranks of the Triad ladder. The gangster here is played by Jordan Chan, who is of course famous for playing "Chicken" in the Y&D movies. But unlike the strong Chicken, Chan's character here is cowardly and only becomes a "good" Triad after being befriended by Tony Leung, who plays the son of the local dai lo (boss), who doesn't want anything to do with the gangster lifestyle. However, after Tony's dad falls ill, a power struggle erupts and forces both him and Jordan into actions they had never imagined.
Jordan Chan. Image courtesy of Mei Ah.
The plot is fairly standard Triad stuff, but War of the Underworld is propelled by a smart script and solid performances. Most of the principals such as Jordan and Simon Lui (who plays the "bad" gangster) are probably able to do this sort of thing in their sleep, and their good work comes as no surprise. However, Tony Leung does a change of pace from his recent "artier" work and injects a nice bit of class into a genre where performances are often left by the wayside for the sake of style.
War of the Underworld also does a good job of playing with conventions of the genre. One of the best scenes in the film comes early on, as Jordan clashes with a rival gang outside of a screening of Young and Dangerous 3. The fight is full of biting, kicks to the groin and sharp camerawork -- a change of pace from the MTV-style quick cuts and "noble" confrontations presented in many other recent Triad movies.
However, War of the Underworld still falls prey to some of the traps of the genre. There is almost too much gimmicky camerawork -- so many of the shots are tilted, I thought the VCD must have been wrongly formatted. Also, the musical montages with lame Cantopop slowed down the movie. Finally, the movie becomes a bit formulaic towards the end, with a "one or more of the heroes must die" ending, complete with yet another syrupy ballad. Overall, though, War of the Underworld is a very solid crime film that fans of the genre should enjoy.
Carman Lee. Image courtesy of Mei Ah.