Judge David Johnson is now accepting applications for his protégé.
Honor. Obligation. Betrayal. There's only one choice. Also, don't do drugs.
Dragon Dynasty changes gears a bit with this release, a drama-heavy film that eschews the chop-socky the label is known for dishing out. Don't let that deter you: Protégé is powerful filmmaking.
Facts of the Case
Nick (Daniel Wu) is a young undercover police officer who's dug himself deep into one of the largest heroin rings in Hong Kong. The head of the syndicate is a veteran drug lord named Quin (Andy Lau, House of Flying Daggers) and he suspects a mole has infiltrated his organization. While Nick desperately tries to throw Quin off his scent, he strikes up a relationship with a heroin-addicted single mom and her tiny daughter living across the hall. This entanglement gets complicated fast, especially when her estranged druggie husband re-enters the picture. Lots on our hero's plate: an f-ed up affair of the heart with an addict in one life, and a high-stakes game of chicken with a ruthless drug kingpin in the other.
You should know right away that Protégé is extremely light on action. Why it netted a nomination for Best Action Choreography at the Hong Kong Film Awards, I don't know. This isn't the typical fisticuff-heavy Dragon Dynasty release we've all come to know and love, but as Bey Logan, Hong Kong cinema expert and commentator extraordinaire, notes in his commentary, the label releasing a film like this was a good move for increased exposure.
Protégé is a great movie and pretty much the most potent anti-drug propaganda since the caffeine pills episode of Saved by the Bell. For real, though, writer/director Derek Yee cuts no corners and strives for zero nuance in his portrayal of heroin: it's an evil creation that destroys lives. It's this conceit which drives Nick to see his mission through, no matter how dangerous the outcome might be to his well-being. However, the pervasive question is can Nick emerge from such an intimate relationship with heroin unscathed? Asking this question in the beginning would have sure yielded a "No chance! He's awesome!" But after the amount of @#$% that befalls him, the uncertainty meter fluctuates greatly. This tenuous dynamic generates much of the tension and is resolved in a beautiful, heartbreaking way with a final scene that will stick with you long after the disc has been ejected.
The two distinct halves of Nick's life—the undercover police operative and the surrogate father/druggie boyfriend—are given near-equal amounts of screen time, often in long stretches. If either of these two portions fell flat, it would have been a death blow to the entire film, but they're both compelling. The common thread is Daniel Yu who is magnetic in each role. He dominates the scenes he's in—okay, the great Andy Lau offers some significant competition—and is onscreen at least 95% of the time. A big burden, but Yu can handle it.
There you go. For action diehards, this character-driven, relatively mayhem-free endeavor may not deliver the Kung Fu goods Dragon Dynasty has built its name on, but consider giving it a whirl. If an undercover cop drama reminiscent of Infernal Affairs appeals to you—and you hate drugs!—Protégé is worth a gander.
A top-shelf DVD from Dragon Dynasty, beginning with a strong 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a robust 5.1 surround mix (Cantonese with English subtitles, or English dubbed). Extras: another excellent commentary from Bey Logan and three interviews with actors Daniel Wu and Zhang Jing Chu and producer Peter Chan
It's a departure from the usual Dragon Dynasty stuff, but Protégé is worth the change in pace.
Not Guilty. Stay above the influence.
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