Chow Yun Fat earns rave reviews for The Last Tycoon

3 January 2013 / 3 years 9 months ago

Source: The New PaperWho better to fill the oversized shoes of a Shanghai mob boss than Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat?Those who lived through the 1980s would recall that he rose to fame with a similar triad role in the iconic Hong Kong TV series The Bund.Older now, but still as charismatic, Chow slips easily into the role of Cheng, whose rise to the top from the lower rungs of the Shanghai underworld is charted in The Last Tycoon.Cheng may be a hardened criminal who kills off his enemies unflinchingly, but beneath the tough, cool-as-cucumber facade is a heart of gold that cherishes loyalty between comrades, while exuding patriotism for his country and genuine affection for the women he loves.This role, which Chow translates with ease, is in line with the many "honourable tough guy" characters he has played throughout his career - from period sword-fighting epics (like Lee Ang's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to crime thrillers (John Woo's A Better Tomorrow and The Killer). So it's no wonder that Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming reportedly felt the pressure when playing the younger version of Cheng, whom we witness getting framed and jailed for murder by a corrupt police chief in China in 1917.Cheng's cellmate, a nationalist army officer named Mao (Francis Ng), is quick to spot the potential in his determination and fighting spirit. After Mao's soldiers rescue him from prison, he offers Cheng the chance to escape - but not before the latter is goaded into chalking up his first kill. Cheng later lands a job as a henchman with an influential mobster, Hong (Sammo Hung), in Shanghai. He finds himself torn between a songstress he eventually marries, Bao (Mo Xiaoqi), and a former lover, Peking Opera actress Zhiqiu (Yolanda Yuan), whom he hasn't quite got over.Aside from conflicting emotions in the area of romance, tension brews from turf wars between the Hong family and Mao's military clout, set against a tumultuous backdrop of insurgencies and the Japanese invasion.With a patchy filmography that includes God Of Gamblers (1989) and Sex And The Beauties (2004), director Wong Jing may be more well-known - and sometimes derided - for his knack for commercial success, rather than artistic value.But, here, he proves himself perfectly adept in handling a respectable blockbuster that's well acted and tightly scripted. The orchestral score adds another touch of class to the film's epic sweep, which is vaguely reminiscent of Casablanca (1942) - just behold the number of extras involved - and a realistic recreation of a historical 1937 battle fought in Shanghai between China's Kuomintang army and Japanese troops.Huang admirably pulls off the younger, brasher version of Cheng with his charisma and intensity, in contrast with Chow's older, more steadfast portrayal. It feels convincing that they are playing the same character.Some scenes may border on melodrama, but no one can fault Chow's masterful delivery, which is at times heroically stoic and resonating with heartfelt poignancy.Don't miss the fireworks that occur in the on-screen interactions between Chow and Ng, who impresses with his memorable depiction of the film's main villain.

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