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Wild City
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by Jay Seaver

"That title has always described Ringo Lam's Hong Kong; still does in 2015."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Welcome back Ringo Lam, a director who has been absent from the Hong Kong movie scene for too long, but who doesn't really seem to have missed a beat with this neon-noir. In many ways, Hong Kong cinemas is a new world since he made his last feature in 2003, from digital shooting to having a close eye on the Mainland audience, but he's still capable of coming out with crime and action that is smart even as it's operatic.

This one starts by flashing back to detective T-Man (Louis Koo) handing in his badge, saying he's a bad cop. A few years later, he owns a bar, and that's where the trouble is coming from: A pretty lady from Qingdao, Yun (Tong Liya), is in no condition to get herself back to her hotel, so T-Man brings her back to the home of his stepmother Mona (Yuen Qiu). She encounters T-Man's half-brother Chung (Shawn Yue Man-lok) upon waking, and when they go to return her to her car, not only has she lost her keys, but a group of Taiwanese gangsters snatch her. It turns out that she has something her lawyer boyfriend George (Joseph Chang Hsiau-chuen) wants back, and even though T-Man can see the disaster that's coming, he and Chung are no the types to just stand aside.

Wild City may not be as incisive as some of Lam's other film's - "money is the root of all evil" is not a particularly new and cutting observation - but there may be more going on than there appears to be. T-Man (short for "Tin-man", so you can see why the English subtitles went for that abbreviation) and Chung are Hong Kong through and through, and this mainland girl who drops into their life is both everything that is alluring about the larger China and everything that is dangerous - she's beautiful, has a bunch of money, is in over her head in a new world and needs you but is also kind of indifferent. She's going to wreck them without actually being evil and they can't turn away.

Of course, that subtext is buried way under the action, where Lam does not mess around. His car chases and shoot-outs smash things up and seem to put a whole lot of civilians at risk rather than finding some clean place for the mayhem to take place. The film is often bloody and harsh, but extremely well-executed. In addition to that, Lam seems to be thinking about the way certain alternate realities can seem to coexist in Hong Kong right now, building tense sequences both from how a gang can just swoop in and take over and pervasive surveillance. It's smart set-up for different types of violent confrontation.

The cast handles all this nicely. Louis Koo's angular features make him a great noir protagonist, even in a movie that is purposely done in crisp, bright digital sharpness: Cynicism drips off T-Man, especially when dealing with the police, even if in some ways it's an obvious shell, compared to the warmth he shows his stepmother or how he deals with Chung and Yun. Shawn Yue comes across as the less uptight brother even if he will kind of pay for it by being in over his head. There's some femme fatale to Tong Liya's Yun, although it's a mostly-benign self-centeredness, and she's got a nice bit when she recounts how she got into this mess.

Lam has a crazily operatic image or two that he sticks into the climax, and the audience may find it a bit much; ditto to his full embrace of making this a movie of its time, including a fair amount of digitally screwing with colors and look. On the other hand, that sort of playing big is part of what makes Hong Kong cinema great: It's a small place that makes its movies big, and since Lam has never been shy about that, there's no reason to start being that way with a comeback.

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originally posted: 07/27/15 15:34:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ringo Lam

Written by
  Ringo Lam

  Louis Koo
  Shawn Yue
  Liya Tong
  Hsiao-chuan Chang
  Jack Kao
  Simon Yam

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