Chin Kar Lok is one of those hard yakka performers the Hong Kong and Chinese film industries have relied on over the years and I have a lot of time for his work. A stunt veteran and background character for much of the 80s and 90s (e.g. Millionaires Express) with an occasional lead role (e.g. The Scorpion King), for the last decade or so he has been more of a character actor (e.g. Cold War). He only has a couple of directing credits and Golden Job is a big budget affair, so I was really hoping it would come through.
This movie is essentially a reunion for most of the main cast of the Young and Dangerous series. I have never tracked any of those movies down so I can’t compare, but Golden Job felt complete in itself and nothing stood out like a callback that went over the head of someone without that history to fall back on. A new name for a new era. Also Middle Aged and Dangerous just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
A slick opening heist in the Middle Eastern desert introduces our team of mercenaries. Lion (Ekin Cheng) is the leader. Bill (Micheal Tse), Dan Ding (Chin Kar Lok), Mouse (Jerry Lamb) and Volcano (Jordan Chan) make up the rest of the crew. Despite wearing variations of black and grey for most of the film, these five are easy enough to tell apart visually with distinct faces and haircuts. It’s a lot to track in the opening though with fast dialogue snippets, sometimes delivered as just voices on the radio, making it hard to pin down who’s who. The fast-paced action is solid, even integrating the music into the scene at times with tapping fingers and some gunshots matching the soundtrack. It’s so attention-grabbing it all ends up working against keeping the characters straight, although anyone who doesn’t need to follow the subtitles will have an advantage.
Elements of the opening scene will become important in time, but a skip ahead five years lets us first meet a couple of supporting characters and set up the next heist. Lion intends for this to be his last job so he can join Dr Chow (Charmaine Sheh) in her aid work in Africa, but it’s only ten minutes into the movie, so it’s a safe bet there will be a few bumps along the way.
Golden Job is pretty much one for the lads. A couple of women pop up, but they are not the focus of the story. This is a continuation of the brotherhood heroics of the likes of A Better Tomorrow and The Mission — and presumably the Young and Dangerous films — but with a globe-trotting scale, which sets it apart from those films of yesteryear based in Hong Kong and nearby territories.
Demonstrating the relationships among characters primarily through their deeds is a deft skill (see The Mission again), but men of action are also allowed to talk. In the scenes where time is taken to sit with the drama and characters the camaraderie and history among the actors comes through. Sometimes emotions are restrained, sometimes things get expressive, and there’s even some ugly crying! On the scales of understated versus on-the-nose, Golden Job tips towards the latter. Unfortunately two key pieces of character information are hinted at, but saved as reveals for the last five minutes, which leaves the audience guessing about some major motivations and character choices rather than being caught up in the conflict as it happens.
Another issue is the follow-through on all the talking and yelling about brotherhood and family. When it comes to the drama being played out in the action, events are not always given the room to register. There is many a classic group shot of distinctly blocked characters and many a meaningful look is traded, but these moments rarely hold long enough to let the fraternal loyalty or tension or whatever else is being conveyed to sink in. This is a casualty of the breakneck speed of the story and especially the action scenes themselves, tearing all across Europe and Asia and causing so much destruction it’s a wonder this mercenary team isn’t wanted internationally. When one character does get captured by the authorities, it’s on purpose to shake off his pursuit.
This incident flows smoothly via a sound cue into a flashback to start fleshing out the history of this brotherhood and their mentor Papa (Eric Tsang). Flashbacks can feel clunky without this kind of care and they are used well several times in Golden Job. Another brief one transitions with a camera pan and shift from desaturated back to full colour. This type of attention is also apparent in the midpoint montage, where the ordering of what is shown is subtly important.
Come the action, subtly goes out the window. The title of the film seems especially pertinent to these scenes, which feel like they’re flashing the money lavished on them all over the screen. Eye-catching locations are packed full of gunfire, explosions, swish cars and all these things colliding in as many ways as possible. The gleeful approach really goes for it and while not everything gels, some crazy stuff still comes pouring out the production pipeline. For instance, CG effects involving vehicles can be distracting, but fifteen cars converging in an intersection without crashing and an airborne car being clotheslined by a traffic light are two moments of mayhem that look awesome regardless of how they were achieved.
On the more human scale it’s mostly gunplay with a little Hong Kong action style tumbling and acrobatics mixed in. The backstory mentions the team spent time in the army, which makes an excuse for their ability to mow over opposition like a combine harvester. As well as Chin Kar Lok some even more senior action greats are here. Billy Chow plays a chief enforcer type as he did in many a kung fu film and it’s a great pleasure to see Yasuaki Kurata relishing the role of an elder statesmen of a Japanese town. Rein in any hopes of serious sparring though, since Golden Job prioritises firearms over fists. With all the talent and resources at the production’s disposal, everything is unfortunately cut together a bit too fast with an emphasis on looking cool rather than clear, but it avoids being messy to the point of incoherence.
While it’s not setting a new standard, Golden Job comes packing some memorable scenes and sparkly visuals and has a go at creating its own style, walking the fine line between soulless imitation of Chinese and Hong Kong classics on the one side and modern Hollywood extravaganzas on the other, without teetering too far in either direction. A full reprise of the theme song with accompanying music video is required to scroll through the huge list of names in the closing credits, but this is overall boldly touted as a Chin Kar Lok film. Hopefully he gets a chance to build on this directorial effort in the future.