There’s a certain amount of cynicism involved with walking into a film like Jiang Hu. There’s the niggling doubt in the back of your mind that, with the recent success of the Infernal Affairs films, Jiang Hu is a quick attempt to cash in on a fashionable trend. I mean you look at the cast and there’s the majority of the core cast of the Infernal Affairs films (which, OK, isn’t all THAT exciting for a very local industry) about the events and dealings of some gangsters in HK’s seedy underbelly (and yes, I will concede the point, HK is somewhat famous for aking these films well). I consider all this and I come to realise that I really don’t have much of an excuse at all.
So yes, being surly and cynical is just a natural state of being.
In all honesty, there was a certain bit of excitement walking into Jiang Hu. Mainly because it was NOT being a Romantic Comedy but of a genre that attracted me to HK films in the first place. Chinese just seem to have this tradition for melancholic narratives that gets merged with the energy of acrobatic visuals and that touch of ultra violence which really makes for good gangster films that are not moralistic and just entertaining.
However, for every memorable Triad film, there are the ones you’d rather forget. Fortunaately, Jiang Hu is not one of them. If anything it is quite entertaining with some very interesting and intentional parallels drawn between the two generation of characters. The characters get developed in such a way that their actions and decisions as the film progresses seems almost farcical of the character archetypes they play. The end, however, crystallises it all so well that it’s hard to not reflect upon them in the context of the entire film and develop, if not sympathy, at least an understanding of their lives.
That being said, the younger leads, Edison Chen and Shawn Yue, are far outshined by the performances of Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung in this. Part of it is the characters and there is that greater sense of depth to the elder pair but there are moments, particularly of Shawn Yue, where you feel he is trying too hard. By that same token there are scenes in the film that have almost become stock footage for these films that are over emphasised and the camera remain upon moments too long.
These are niggling details though, as Jiang Hu is a quite well made film that is entertaining and intriguing. A reminder that nobody does an Asian urban landscape robbed of hope as well as Hong Kong.