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Original Title:
Jiang Hu

Hong Kong 2004

Crime, Drama

Wong Ching-Po

Andy Lau
Jacky Cheung
Shawn Yue
Edison Chen
Lin Yuan
Eric Tsang
Norman Chu
Miu Kiu Wai
Lam Ka Tung
Wu Chien-lien
Chapman To
Lam Suet

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Jiang Hu

aka Gong Wu; Blood Brothers

Story: Triad Boss Hung (Andy Lau) becomes a father. However, this also means that he is more vulnerable now. Hung's right hand and long-term buddy Lefty (Jacky Cheung) gives him the advice to take his wife and kid and emigrate to New Zealand. In fact, Hung finds out that there is a planned attempt on his life. Yet, he decides to stay and continue to attend to his business. Moreover, he ignores the warnings of his wife that Lefty might stab him in the back and instead tries to teach Lefty once more the meaning of brotherhood, while Lefty is taking charge of things and is cleaning up the organisation. Soon, it becomes apparent that not only Lefty, but Hung worked out a complex plan, too, which might change things forever.
It's just now that the two rookies, Turbo (Edison Chen) and Yik (Shawn Yue), get the chance from their boss to kill the reigning triad boss and make a name for themselves. Nonetheless, for this they have to get a weapon first, which proves to be rather difficult. Furthermore, Yik makes the acquaintance of hooker Yoyo (Lin Yuan), with whom he falls in love with.
The events on this night make an unexpected turn for the worse. Not everybody will see the next day...

Review: "Jiang Hu" has gotten a mixed bag of reviews. A lot of critics were disappointed, because expectations were quite high, yet as it is often the case when you've already read about a movie and have scaled down your expectations this one really could surprise me, actually. This doesn't mean that the film hasn't got its downsides, but it offers more than one would have expected. If you can sit through the somewhat confusing introduction which already establishes all important characters into the story frame of the movie in a few minutes, you will be quite entertained by the rest. Of course, it's all about the familiar plot of power games within the triad organisation and how the new generation wants to replace the old one. Nonetheless, the wrapping is quite pleasing and there are also some nice twists imbedded into the movie.

The film's strength surely lies within its gritty and slick cinematography, as well as in its tense atmosphere. Director Wong Ching-Po undoubtedly orients by the works of Johnnie To and Co., especially concerning the great lighting of the scenes. Nevertheless, this doesn't make Wong's work a cheap clone. There is some very nice and inventive camera work to be seen, e.g. the prancing camera at the dining table, and moreover the cuts are also done by someone who knows what he's doing.
Unfortunately, you have the feeling that the two stories between Hung/Lefty and Yik/Turbo have no connection at all and are just told parallel, nearly seperately from one another. Much to our surprise we have to find out that this is so for a reason and so we can't really blame the director for it, even though it is a bit bothering at times.
Additionally, it's also a downside that at some points certain scenes and the continuity of the story in general are a bit disruptive. The love story between Yik an Yoyo is such a case. It seems to have no real importance to the story and only at the end you might tell respectively which place it has in the the overall picture. Moreover, the love story is just depicted too cold and cheesy for us to care.

There has to be thrown a good amount of criticism at some of the actors. First, there is Shawn Yue ("Initial D"), whose performance is just too distant to really touch us. His tragic family history can't change this either, which unfortunately is just told in a view pictures and doesn't really help to let Yue's character seem more real. Yik depicts the stereotype quite guy, who with his grim determination would stop at nothing to build up a reputation, and if necessary would even kill for it. Sadly, Yue doesn't have the skills to master such a difficile role, so his character just remains very shallow and we just can't sympathize with him.
Edison Chen ("Twins Effect") on the other hand is just the lively buddy, even if he does deliver a better performance than Yue. But this isn't that hard in this case, anyway.
It's totally different with Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung, of course, who prove to be masters of their craft. Lau bestows the triad boss with an exceptional charisma, which you can't escape from and Cheung plays his old friend and present potential rival with flying colours. The chemistry between the two is just perfect and their dialogues in the restaurant are so full of tension that you might even see the electricity between them.

The list of the supporting cast also has some very familiar names on it, e.g. Eric Tsang, who also was co-producing the movie, or Chapman To. In a little cameo there is even Lam Suet to be seen, whose scene is an obvious innuendo referring to his role in "PTU". However, except of Hung and Lefty all characters remain rather two-dimensional and you gotta ask yourself if the script didn't mess it up completely concerning the characters. Maybe, if there weren't the great actors Lau and Cheung there would have been no interesting character development at all.
Nonetheless, it's hard to be really harsh about it, because "Jiang Hu" seldomly has any pacing problems. Oftentimes there isn't really happening anything, and we are merely waiting along with the protagonists, but the atmosphere builds up more and more while the tension reaches several climaxes in this almost minimalistic scenes, like it is most likely only possible in Hong Kong movies. A lot of these scenes look pretty slick and stylish. The soundtrack is also very fitting and in general it is safe to say, that there is nothing wrong with the technical aspect or look of the movie.

Unfortunately, the story is told in a quite confusing manner at times. A lot of subplots and the stories of the characters loose themselves somewhere midway through, yet the tense atmosphere can make up for it again. The highlight is the resolving end, because it manages to force you to see the whole film in a new context. What a shame that the movie can't keep up with this high standard from the beginning, because Wong's movie surely had potential. Who knows, maybe in the future he can prove that he can do even better than this.
At the end it's all about brotherhood again, and even if "Jiang Hu" is not a perfect film at all, for me it surely managed to hit the right notes quite more often than To's "Election" did. Sure, Wong's movie could have been a lot better, yet the good directing and two great actors, as well as the gripping atmosphere make me recommend it to every HK-Thriller enthusiast.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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