the cast


Series Review

The Young and Dangerous films have become one of HK's most popular series of the last few years. Similar to what has happened in the US with the "slasher" genre (with films such as Scream), Young and Dangerous (released in 1996) took a popular genre of the '80's (the heroic bloodshed films popularized by movies by John Woo such as A Better Tomorrow and The Killer) and revitalized (perhaps "recycled" might be more appropriate) it by using hip young stars. While many scholars and politicians criticized Y&D for glamorizing the Triad lifestyle (similar to what happened with A Better Tomorrow), audiences didn't care. The film became a huge hit.

Within a little over a year, three sequels were released and the "Triad youth" genre was born. Since then, there have been two other sequels, three prequels, two "spin-off" movies as well as many imitators or outright ripoffs. The series continues to be popular, with a new installment premiering during the summer of 2000.

While a lot of critics like to blather on incessantly about the parallels between the story and China's takeover of HK or how the characters reflect society, I tend to take the Y&D films for what they are -- pop entertainment. Sometimes I think film "experts" tend to forget that people watch movies for sheer enjoyment, not for deep philosophical meaning. And that is why I think the Y&D series is so popular -- it's just quite enjoyable to watch these young men, in a sense, grow up in front of us. The emphasis here is really not on the Triad antics -- though they of course figure heavily into the story -- but rather the relationships. You could think of it of a Hong Kong version of The Sopranos; it may be the violence and tough talk that draws you in, but it's the interaction between the characters that keeps you watching each new "episode" (movie).

It doesn't hurt that director Andrew Lau (not to be confused with the pop star/actor Andy Lau) packs quite a visual punch in the movies. Using steadicams (hand-held cameras) and working with sync sound, the Y&D movies have a fresh, flowing feel to them that perfectly captures the fast-paced lifestyle of Hong Kong in the late 20th century. Acting-wise, the cast list for the Y&D series reads like a "who's who" list of HK celebrities, from veterans like Simon Yam and Anthony Wong to newcomers such as Jordan Chan and Sam Lee. Combined with the intriguing, long-running narrative and well-paced, often violent turns in the story, it's no wonder why Young and Dangerous became such a phenomenon.

After working on Y&D, director Andrew Lau went on to work on some of the highest-grossing home-grown films in recent HK history, such as The Storm Riders and A Man Called Hero. The series' top stars (Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan) have become two of Hong Kong's -- and Asia's -- biggest box office draws, appearing (often together) in such high-profile movies as Hot War and Tokyo Raiders.

All that being said, let's get on with the reviews...

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Young and Dangerous (January, 1996)

Director: Andrew Lau

Stars: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Simon Yam, Francis Ng, Gigi Lai

The story begins as a group of kids are trying to play soccer when they are harassed by a local Triad boss, Kwan (Ng). Another boss, the kindly Bee, saves them from getting beat up too bad and the kids decide to join him in the Hung Hing Group. Flash-forward ten years and the kids, led by Ho Nam (Cheng) and his right-hand man Chicken (Chan), are quickly moving up the Triad ladder. They spend their days gambling, drinking and harassing women, among them a local hooker named Smartie (Lai) who steals Nam's car and then later his heart. The "president" of Hung Hing (Yam) decides it's time for the boys to get serious and sends them to Macao to conduct a deal. During their trip, it becomes apparent that they were set up by someone within Hung Hing. Ho Nam must try to clear his name and avenge his friends.

While it suffers from an unoriginal plot and somewhat wooden acting from the lead Cheng, the film's quick pace and slick visuals, as well as a great villainous performance from Francis Ng, make Young and Dangerous a fairly entertaining and watchable film. A good introduction to the series that will likely make you wanting to see more.


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Young and Dangerous 2 (March, 1996)

Director: Andrew Lau

Stars: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Simon Yam, Gigi Lai, Anthony Wong, Chingmy Yau, Spencer Lam

The focus of the story switches from Ho Nam to Chicken in this installment as Hung Hing tries to forge ties with a powerful Taiwanese crime boss, who Chicken worked for (and whose girlfriend [Yau] he romanced) during his time of exile in Y&D1. Things get complicated at home in Hong Kong when a rival in the group (Wong) tries to push Ho Nam out of power.

The series takes a more serious turn in this installment. Since their experience in Macao, Ho Nam and his brothers are no longer wide-eyed young boys. They know being a Triad comes with its own set of special consequences. Chicken, in particular seems to have changed fairly dramatically; instead of laughing at a friendly priest's (Lam) advice, he begins to take it seriously, treating the "father" almost as a real father. The actors reflect this change in the lives of their characters. Cheng seems to have settled into the role of Ho Nam, taking the woodeness of the first movie and turning it into cool calculation, and Chan steals the show as the increasingly world-weary Chicken, who becomes torn between his two "families." And, of course, having Anthony Wong in a movie doesn't hurt either. Even though it's not a great performance, Wong creates a suitably sleazy villain that should please fans of his work. The only sore thumb in the bunch is Yau, who looks to be out of her element here, regulated to being nothing more than (very pretty) window dressing.


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Young and Dangerous 3 (June, 1996)

Director: Andrew Lau

Stars: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Simon Yam, Gigi Lai, Anthony Wong, Spencer Lam, Karen Mok

Things begin to settle down a bit for the "Triad Boys," as life returns to "normal" after the clash with the Taiwanese gang in Y&D2. Ho Nam tries to nurse the injured Smartie back to health, and Chicken finds a new love interest in the form of the priest's trash-talking daughter (Mok). The peace is shattered when, yet again, another rival steps up to try to take Ho Nam down, setting Nam up for the murder of the president of Hung Hing during a trip to Amsterdam. Once again, Ho Nam must fight to protect his name and his brothers.

Besides the goofy, travelogue-esque footage of Amsterdam, Y&D3 is probably the most realistic and serious film of the series. A lot of the more "bubble-gum" imagery in the first two films is replaced here with a more stark, striking style (director Lau seems less dependent on steadicams this time around) and a very violent turn in the film's final half-hour that leaves with an ending which will probably surprise most followers of the series with its more serious tone.

Once again, Chan steals the show, especially during his flirts/fights with Mok which actually have some degree of sexual tension to them, instead of the limp posturing that occurs as romantic subplots in many other films. Cheng turns in another good performance as Ho Nam, though his shit-eating grin does tend to grow tiresome after a while.


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Once Upon a Time in Triad Society (September, 1996)

Director: Cha Chuen Yee

Stars: Francis Ng, Spencer Lam

In this sort of hybrid of a spin-off and a prequel, Francis Ng returns as Ugly Kwan. The story doesn't quite mesh with the other films in the series, but it is an entertaining film in the vein of some of Johnnie To's movies like A Hero Never Dies. Click here to read a full review.


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Young and Dangerous 4 (March, 1997)

Director: Andrew Lau

Stars: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Anthony Wong, Spencer Lam, Karen Mok, Roy Cheung, Michelle Reis

The focus switches back to Chicken in this installment. A leader in the rival Ting Sung society (Cheung) kills one of the Hung Hing boys, which sets up a power struggle between Chicken and Cheung's protégé Barbarian for control of a key district. Ho Nam, after having numerous loved ones snuffed in the past three movies, tries to talk Chicken out of taking a leadership role, but Chicken thinks it's his time and ignores him. You probably know what happens next -- lots of double-crosses, tested loyalties and beatdowns galore. Will Chicken become triumphant and become a boss of his own?

The series starts to show its age in this installment. I guess cranking out four movies in little more than a year had its toll on both cast and crew. There's nothing really special here; most of the leads seem to be on auto-pilot all the way through. Even the great Anthony Wong (in a role that amount to little more than a cameo) doesn't seem to care, forgoing even the hair and makeup used in the previous installments to differentiate his character. The romantic subplots, which were treated well in the other movies, are painfully laughable here, especially the one between Cheng and Reis. Their love scene is so atrociously bad that I was actually groaning in disbelief.

The film isn't all bad -- Cheung is quite good as the villain and Chan turns in another good performance, though not quite up to the level of parts 2 or 3. Overall, Y&D4 is a by-the-numbers crime film that you might call "stunningly average"; fans of the series will definitely enjoy this one more than the casual viewer.


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Young and Dangerous 5 (January, 1998)

Director: Andrew Lau

Stars: Ekin Cheng, Anthony Wong, Danny Lee, Mark Cheng, Hsu Chi

Once again, Ho Nam's "empire" is threatened. This time it's by a young upstart also named Ho Nam (Mark Cheng). What could have been a potentially interesting plot is dropped in favor of something involving real estate fraud, which is later dropped in favor of some silly kickboxing tournament between the rival gangs. The creators of the film took a long time (at least in terms of the series) to make Y&D5, but apparently they forgot to write a decent script. The movie goes all over the map. Characters and entire plot lines come and go at a whim and there are huge holes in the film, such as where the hell is Chicken? Ho Nam cannot carry the movie on his own; most of the enjoyment out of the previous installments came from watching Ho Nam and Chicken's relationship and, I'm sorry, the relationship between Ho Nam and a ditzy girlfriend (Hsu) just doesn't cut it. Lee is absolutely wasted in his role as (what else) a cop, and, once again, Anthony Wong's role amounts to nothing more than a glorified cameo.

Definitely the worst of the series; even big fans of Y&D were put off by this rubbish. Watch if you're a completist only.


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Portland Street Blues (March, 1998)

Director: Yip Wai-Man

Stars: Sandra Ng, Hsu Chi, Kristy Yeung, Alex Fong, Ng Man-Tat, Vincent Wan, Ekin Cheng, Francis Ng, Ken Lo

This is a spinoff/prequel concentrating on Sister Thirteen (Sandra Ng) and the things that caused her to become a Triad, starting with the death of her father at the hands of a gang. Sister Thirteen is one of the most unique -- and underwritten -- characters in the Y&D series, so the premise of this movie is pretty interesting. It's also exceuted well, catapulted through great performnces by Ng and (more suprisingly) Hsu Chi. I'm not normally a fan of her work, but her performance as a heroin addict who provides Thirteen's way into Hung Hing is really good. The movie is a great addition to the series, but also stands alone well, since there are so few non-exploitative stories about women gangsters done anywhere in the world.

(A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here)

RATING: 7.75

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Young and Dangerous: The Prequel (June, 1998)

Director: Andrew Lau

Stars: Nicholas Tse, Sam Lee, Francis Ng

Having realized that they might have run the course of Y&D with part 5, but still wanting to milk the franchise (and, maybe more importantly, having a new set of young stars to thrust upon Hong Kong), the filmmakers turned to that old tried-and-true gimmick: the prequel. The story takes place after the playground incident in the first film, with Bee saving the kids from Kwan. However, the prequel expands on this. Ho Nam (played here by Tse) does not immediately join up with Bee as he did in Y&D1. He admires Bee and sees the Triad as a way to get out of his poor existence, but does not want to hurt his mother's feelings or put his friends in jeopardy. Ho Nam still sees school as a way out of the ghetto, but after he is kicked out for singing an "objectionable" song at the school's talent show, that road is closed to him. After he learns that Chicken (played by Lee) has already joined up with Bee, Ho Nam makes the choice that will determine the rest of his life.

After the last couple of Y&D movies, I was a bit skeptical about the prequel. But this film really recaptures the formula that made the first three films fun to watch. Newcomer Tse turns in a great performance as the young Ho Nam (he won a Hong Kong Film Award for his part) and Sam Lee is quite good as well. The plot is fairly simple, but the style once again lifts this movie above the average Triad movie. It's also one of the few prequels where it is interesting to watch how the characters develop, especially when it comes to seeing how exactly Ho Nam became the leader of the group.

My personal favorite of the series; it can stand quite well on its' own. In fact, I would recommend watching this one first before the "real" first installment. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

RATING: 8.65

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Those Were the Days (March, 2000)

Director: Yip Wai-Man

Stars: Jordan Chan, Gigi Leung, Michael Tse, Jason Chu, Jerry Lamb, Anthony Wong, Sandra Ng, Ekin Cheng, Kristy Yeung

This installment is another prequel, this time concentrating on Chicken (who, for some reason is called Cock in this movie). Growing up in the projects, he falls in love with a girl named Gee (Gigi Leung), but she doesn't like his Triad lifestyle. They eventually come together after the death of Gee's mother (who Chicken respects as his own mother, so now his surrogate family is complete), but Chicken has to go on the run after killing a rival boss. Months later, they get back together and plan to get married but once again "the life" interferes with Chicken's plans and it seems like he and Gee will never get together, until almost ten years later when he meets up with her at Sister Thirteen's (Sandra Ng) wedding.

The movie isn't as violent as most of the others in the series -- in fact, there's kind of a "warm and fuzzy" feeling running through it. It would quickly turn into romantic mush if it wasn't for the good performances of Jordan Chan and Gigi Leung. This is still pretty lightweight stuff, but it's enjoyable, and it does flesh out the character of Chicken a bit more. On its' own, Those Were the Days isn't a great movie -- honestly, this "Triad and good girl" romance thing has been done to death. But as part of the series, I'll be a bit forgiving and say that it's a pretty good film, even though the script doesn't exactly fit in with the previous entries (it has Ho Nam joining the Triad first, whereas Young and Dangeorus: The Prequel had Chicken being the first of the group to join).

(A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here)


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Born to be King (June, 2000)

AKA: Born to be the King, Young and Dangerous 6

Director: Andrew Lau

Stars: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Blackie Ko, Sonny Chiba, Peter Ho, Hsu Chi, Gigi Lai, Roy Cheung, Sandra Ng

After over two years and a slate of spinoffs and prequels, we finally return to the story proper. This installment focuses on Chicken (always a good thing in my opinion) who returns from Taiwan to marry a Japanese yakuza's (Sonny Chiba) daughter so the two gangs can come together. As per the usual Y&D antics, things seem to be going well at first -- with Chicken trying to cope with married life and Ho Nam dealing with his squealing girlfriend's (Hsu Chi, in an incredibly annoying performance) own demands to tie the knot. However, both internal and external forces once again challenge the group and there is -- you guessed it -- a big fight for the control of Hung Hing.

This is a good installment -- a hell of a lot better than part 5 -- but if you're not a fan of the series, or have at least seen the previous films, you might be lost as to what exactly is going on. There are attempts at recaps throughout the movie, but they depend on showing really quick clips of previous movies that aren't really going to make much sense unless you've seen them before. The series' popularity may become it biggest detriment; there is almost a mythos around these characters and histories that may be too forboding for first-time viewers, who might just view this as yet another Triad pic. As I am a fan of the series, I'll be a bit more forgiving with the rating, but if you haven't seen the previous movies, you might want to skip this one as it is much more satisfying as a chapter of the series rather than a stand-alone film.

(A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here)


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