Story: Jim Yam (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) is one of the bosses of the triads, however, he has to put up with other bosses besides him. Up until now the
balance of power has always been stable, but one day policeman Wilson Yip (Eason Chan) warns him that he is said to be the target of an assassination
attempt. Just at the same moment a sniper opens fire on Yam. After the failed assassination boss Yam is putting all his efforts into finding the
men behind it. At all times there is skilled bodyguard Yue (Roy Cheung) at the triad boss' side, but even he couldn't save him from every bullet. It
gets even worse for Jim Yam when he has to worry about his longtime affair being uncovered which could lead to his wife Sophie (Sandra Ng), who
is also part of the triads, doing something stupid. Things get more complicated when boss Kei dies and Jim Yam has to sit down and negotiate with the
other bosses about how the turf is to be divided among the rest of them. Treachery seems to be around every corner and of some triad members, like
the young guy Tiger (Samuel Pang), it's hard to tell, yet, which role they will play in the upcoming fight.
Review: "Jiang Hu" describes a world of outlaws. In Wuxia-stories, where this expression is often used, swordmasters from different schools
fight each other and either protect
the people or use them to their advantage. Literally meaning "rivers and lakes" it is actually refering to unsettled areas to which outcasts flee.
Nonetheless, even a world like that can't work without certain rules. Honor and loyality are indispensable. Same goes for the triads. Because triads live
in the world of Jiang Hu. At least when you ask boss Yam who is still doing things according to old school and surely knows how to deal with the young
bosses who believe that they can implement a bunch of wild ideas into such a well-tried structure like that of the triads. Director Dante Lame doesn't
bring a simple triad movie to the screen. There are actually already enough of them out there. Instead he blends thriller and comedy with a pinch of
drama, apparently a mix that is impossible to work out. But Lam is surprisingly successful which makes "Jiang Hu" a very worthwile movie.
Standing out right from the start is the narrative structure of the film. Boss Yam talks a bit about his life, his monologues accompany us through his past every now and then, e.g. when he met his wife in England first, or at other times we jump to other time levels. To keep track of things is quite easy, though, and the actual red thread of the movie also isn't lost sight of during those moments. This thread is in fact not dealing with uncovering the identity of the assassin but about Yam and his life in which his wife is playing a big part. Tony Leung Ka-Fai ("Eye in the Sky", "Double Vision") absolutely owns the movie as his charismatic portrayal of a man being just everything but what you would call perfect, a merciless boss as well as a cheating husband and yet having his heart at the right place, is extremely well done. Especially the complexity of his character makes the film so entertaining. More than anything else it's the fact that Leung's role provides numerous comedic moments that are great to watch.
This brings us to the most interesting feature of "Jiang Hu - The Triad Zone" - the humor. There are a lot of scenes that deliver really funny dialogues in a completely deadpan way. Lam continuously fades out at the right time or he manages in other ways to not make his characters laugh out loud which just makes their scenes even more funny. One rival for example is overtaken by a very gruesome death only because Yam being the boss that he is can't admit that he might have given a wrong liquidation order. Then there is also an unusual declaration of love which doesn't just work out on an emotional level but also makes you laugh. A small highlight, even though the most wacky and off-beat scene in the film, is Anthony Wong as a reputed shrine god or maybe just manic nut case. Wong even presents a small martial arts choreography which really is a rare sight! Therefore, the humor is build up in a very well done way through the respective situation as well as thanks to the characters and it makes you laugh out loud on more than one occasion.
In technical respects, Dante Lam works certain special effects into his film like slow motion scenes or freeze frames which seem rather unnecessary to be honest. The way he captures the humor and the characters is the true heart of the movie, though. Towards the end the movie becomes more dramatic, of course, but even then there is enough to laugh about so that "Jiang Hu" always retains the same tone. The at times pretty subtle humor also takes up a subordinate role to the more serious scenes when necessary and the characters are multilayered enough to keep up our interest for them at any time. The relationship between Yam and his wife also contains a little bit of drama, naturally, but the two of them wouldn't have survived in that business for so long if there wouldn't be any chance for them to actually find a solution to their problems that is satisfactory for both sides. This makes the ending emotionally more captivating than you maybe might have expected and a Hong Kong movie twist is added as well.
The mix "Jiang Hu - The Triad Zone" presents itself as is out of the ordinary and original. Furthermore, it works out most of the time! Some scenes are really well written which is why the screenplay deserves some words of praise especially when it comes to the dialogues. The subtle and yet omnipresent humor seamlessly fits into an otherwise serious triad movie about what it means to work in such an organisation and yet remain human and someone who also wants to preserve the love for his wife. Fantastic acting achievements further add to the nice end product. However, despite all that it needs to be pointed out that "Jiang Hu" is also a bit quirky at times also when it comes to its humor so that the movie might not be for everyone's taste. Then on the other hand the wackiness is kept within a limit and it's just this genuiness that is so refreshing and makes the film stand out from similar works of the genre.