Wild City: Hong Kong Movie That Audiences Would Expect From Ringo Lam
When it became official that Ringo Lam was finally taking seat on the director’s chair again after 12 years. Not counting his participation in “Triangle”, film lovers really were excited.
Wild City (Thanh Pho Toi Ac) is the kind of Hong Kong movie we would expect from Lam. Unfortunately, the director doesn’t seem to be in his old shape yet since the story turns out to be too straightforward and the characters aren’t as three-dimensionally drawn as would have been necessary in order to mold the relationships as complex as Lam intended them to be. Nonetheless, there is something deliberatly unpolished about “Wild City” that reminds you of good ol’ 80s and 90s HK thrillers. Even today this still has some charm to it and gives the movie more character than recent polished action flicks with all their star power can purport to have.
It needs to be pointed out right away, though, that Ringo Lam (“Prison on Fire”. “Full Alert”) aims more at a wide audience with “Wild City” than you would expect from him. On the one hand there are no surprises or sudden u-turns and on the other hand there ultimately still remains a clear picture of good and evil in the movie. That is in fact strange since Ringo Lam, who also wrote the screenplay, clearly puts interesting motives into the center of his plot. Accordingly, things revolve around people’s value and how it is measured by banknotes in capitalist society. If you take a closer look you will realize that actually everything in the movie revolves around some kind of barter business. Consequently, it seems to be preprogrammed that things result in a few moral dilemmas, right?
Well, unfortunately you won’t find any of those. T-Man comes to the fore as a narrator every now. And then and philosohizes almost dryly and analytically about evilness in the world. And doing so he sometimes even shows a side of his that makes us wonder if maybe T-Man was actually supposed to be a profound character. It just that he doesn’t come across as someone like that at all since director Lam particularly misses the opportunity to give the story’s protagonist more depth concerning one certain aspect.
T-Man always acts according to law, even to such extent that he almost drives his half-brother crazy. But from a certain point onward he starts to shift more to the dark side and even tortures a villain if need be. At the end he even tries to literally clean his hands from all the blood. There would have been great opportunities here to give the individuals more shades of grey.
And isn’t it those shades of grey that we loved in old Hong Kong thrillers? Maybe Ringo Lam also had to succumb to the wishes of the Chinese censorboard. After all you want to aim at an audience as big as possible. But all in all this has been a bad decision since the protagonists are rather shallow. Louis Koo (“Z Storm”, “Overheard 3”) can’t accentuate the little nuances of his character, but otherwise he doesn’t disappoint. Shawn Yue (“Helios”, “Love in the Buff”) is the hothead in the story. And if nothing else is responsible for the necessary energy on screen. Tong Liya plays a woman that emphasizes the straighforwardedness of the screenplay very apparently. She lacks some serious color.
Nevertheless, it’s more than anything else the relationships that stand as the film’s strong point. They may lack complexity, but “Wild City” displays an impressive web of interpersonal dependencies. And this is also what makes the story stand out in a way. The plot itself sadly fizzles out too often so that even the pacing comes to a halt on several occasions. You also won’t find any action scenes apart from a few car chasing scenes, which even get a bit repetitive towards the end. And there is only one nice explosion worth mentioning.
Ringo Lam tries to be more profound than is good for him with his HK thriller. The forced symbolism at the end is just one example for that. Ultimately, this prevents Wild City (phim hanh dong 2020) from being the extraordinarily good thriller that we hoped for it to be. But the film has more pecularities than its competition which makes you almost inclined to overlook the flaws. Almost.