Tartan Video // 2004 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 15th, 2011
Now they call me Mr. Lefty.
Triad boss Hung (Andy Lau, Infernal Affairs) has just seen the birth of his child and, to protect his baby and his wife, is encouraged by his best friend Lefty (Jacky Cheung, Bullet in the Head) to leave town and get away from his gangster life. While he declines to leave, word spreads quickly that Hung might be softening and, in order to seize power, a group of lieutenants put out a hit on him. Two young bucks, Wing (Shawn Yue, Love in a Puff) and Turbo (Edison Chen, The Grudge 2), take the job, but must battle through both streets full of thugs and their own morality to complete it.
Triad Underworld is a pretty typical Hong Kong action film, telling a story of honor (or lack thereof) among thieves and the extent to which underlings will go to rise in the ranks of the mob. While that remains true as the focus turns to Wing and Turbo, director Ching-Po Wong (Revenge: A Love Story) also shows that there is real loyalty, at least among peers, that they will look out for one another no matter the cost. In this way, the Wing/Turbo relationship mirrors that of Hung and Lefty, a parallel that extends to the final scenes of the film. At the top and the bottom of the chain, this exists; in between not so much. The lieutenants clearly show no honor. Once they gain a taste of power, all they want is more, and their hunger will not be sated until they have all of it and can finally settle down. No doubt this is the ultimate fate of Wing and Turbo, but we don't see that far down the road so, as they stand, they are an honorable pair.
With the involvement of so many people from the great Infernal Affairs trilogy, I expected a little too much from Triad Underground. It's not a bad film and has some very good moments, but the overall picture left me underwhelmed. A lot of that disappointment stems from the story, which is simple enough on the surface, but is told in a surprisingly convoluted manner, especially given its short running time. With two triad bosses, two assassins, and three treacherous lieutenants, there are just too many characters to explain for an 80-minute film. By cutting the number of players or extending the film to let some of them breathe a little, it could have more easily succeeded, but as it stands, it's a little too messy.
While the machinations of the plot are fairly muddled, Triad Underworld is still worth watching for the stylish direction and solid performances, especially genre veterans Lau and Cheung. They work as well together and have as much chemistry as they ever have, even if it isn't their best material. They're perfectly believable as close friends and mob bosses, loving of each other but otherwise an intimidating duo. Yue and Chen are good young actors who mimic that relationship well and the final scenes when the four are together are the best moments of the film. Triad Underworld is a straight ahead action film, but Wong's slick direction really helps the film seem more exciting that in really is. The fight scenes are very well paced and the filler looks really good. There are plenty of good parts to this film, but it doesn't come to a terribly satisfying whole.
From Tartan's Asian Extreme label, Triad Underworld is a mediocre disc. The anamorphic image often looks soft in the more kinetic scenes, which are numerous, though it corrects itself pretty well during the static moments. This is a dark film and the blackness is fairly deep. It's not always perfect, but the transfer holds up pretty well most of the time. The sound fares about the same, with a decent surround mix, but a little noise in the background. Extras include a standard making-of featurette, a lame music video, and a trailer.
Triad Underworld, unfortunately, doesn't come anywhere near the greatness of Infernal Affairs and, though they're different films, this seems to strive for the earlier classic. Still, the film is stylish and, the performances are good enough to warrant a moderate recommendation for fans of the genre.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Cantonese)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music Video