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Original Title:
Ngor fu

Hong Kong 2006

Crime, Drama, Comedy

Marko Mak

Eric Tsang
Francis Ng
Jordan Chan
Miu Kiu-Wai
Julian Cheung
Sonja Kwok
Timmy Hung
Nie Yuan
Na Wei
Wong Tak-bun
Qin Hailu

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Operation Undercover

aka Wo Hu

Story: Hong Kong's police force wants to destroy the city's triad organisation once and for all. Therefore, a gigantic operation is set in motion. 1000 policemen are sent to infiltrate the different triad organisations and to stay undercover until the time is right for the greatest bust of the history of Hong Kong to take place.
The triads somehow get news about this secret operation and henceforth are doubting and distrusting anyone among them. Jim (Eric Tsang) hires "Killer" (Shawn Yue) to get rid of obvious undercover agent Eric (Timmy Hung). Wai (Miu Kiu-Wai) who is leading the "Wo Hu" Operation, tries to exert pressure on the triads in order to get the murderer of Eric.
In fact, the triads have to face some serious problems because of the police's work. One of their bosses, Walter (Francis Ng), is doing his best to keep a low profile for now, while Tommy (Julian Cheung) is forced to leave the country and to entrust his business to Jim for the time being. However, Tommy doesn't really trust Jim and so a deadly battle breaks loose in the organisation.
Nonetheless, Wai has still difficulties to get his hands on the number one boss of the triads and it gets even worse for him when he is blackmailed by one of the bosses. During his time as an undercover agent Wai himself did get his hands dirty and someone is now trying to make use of that...

Review: At first, "Operation Undercover" might seem to be one of those many "Infernal Affairs" clones that are trying to squeeze out anything left of the original's great story. Nowadays, however, the story about undercover agents risking their lives and denying who they really are, is becoming more and more stereotyped stuff. Fortunately, this movie heads for a little different direction, because it doesn't put its focus on the cops in the triads, which by the way would have been rather difficult taking in account that there are about 1000 of them, but instead puts more weight on the individuals of the triads. However, the numerous mood changes of the film are sometimes really annoying, and every now and then it is even apparent that Wong Jing, "Hong Kong's Most Hated Director/Producer", had his hands in the making of this movie. Nevertheless, all in all director Marko Mak manages to deliver an entertaining and at times even inventive flick!

The movie has some obvious downsides. For starters, the different stories are presented a bit too disjointed and feel too episode-like. Later on, they might all head for one mutual finale, but the film's atmosphere or rather the many changes in it are quite irritating to say the least. Every now and then "Operation Undercover" proves to be surprisingly funny, at other times it's gritty and even dramatic. There is no coherent end product, but somehow this genre mixture can also be quite interesting at times.
When Gangster Fei, played by Jordan Chan, gets only a bunch of old men and women to fight in a great brawl with his rival, or gets run down by his wife, then these are some typical Wong Jing moments. Luckily they lack the intrusive and awkward slapstick factor of his. In fact, they can be really funny, especially when Francis Ng comes into play.

At other times there are scenes that are providing some nice drama, too. There are almost no real action sequences in "Operation Undercover" and there are some serious lean periods concerning a thrilling pacing. Nevertheless, this is made up for with some rather trivial scenes, that, however, are radiating a certain kind of magic you can't deny. One of these scenes is when Jim and Walter talk about if there are also good guys among the triads. There are some moments, in which the movie can show off its strengths, and they mainly lie within the characters and the fact that the triad members are portrayed like real human beings and not like merciless killers. Many of them show their weak sides. There is Jim with his sudden lovestory with Elaine, played by Sonja Kwok, which is actually a bit too spirited, yet manages to ignite the spark necessary for us to be interested in this subplot. And there is also Walter whose son gets into a fight with Wai's son, whereas the actually deadly enemies end up in a conversation from one father to another. Even an emotional fridge as Tommy shows some heart, in his case when it comes to his mother. In exchange, the "good guys" get some surprisingly dark sides, too, for instance Wai and his past in the police force. This grey-coloration of the characters is very welcome and refreshingly honest.

Nonetheless, all of this can't compensate for the many incoherences. At its core, the plot is quite clever and has many twists up its sleeve, but then the movie drifts off again and again, sometimes being funny, at others emotional or just deadly serious. That's annoying and the at times amateurish directing, as well as some of the newsflash-like inserted arrest documentation scenes also don't fit into an overall picture, so that you have to criticize the filmmakers for paying too much attention to the individual characters, without even thinking of a good way too connect all parts of the story to a whole.
Furthermore, there are several missed opportunities. Many scenes could have been more thrilling, and especially during the emotional scenes there was so much potential hidden. The movie really doesn't lack good actors, but the director doesn't seem to know how to get the best out of them. Marko Mak showed with his "Colour of the Truth" that he can do a lot better and so "Operation Undercover" clearly falls short of what it had the potential to be.

Despite all the flaws and the disappointment about the many missed opportunities, the actors can make up for a lot. Especially Eric Tsang and Francis Ng once more prove that they are great in depicting complex individuals. who in spite of the fact that they are gangsters, show also a lot of emotions and humaneness. Even though they are responsible for the movie's best moments you shouldn't look down on the work of the rest of the cast. Everyone is doing his part and is convincing almost all of the time.
As already said, some scenes lack the necessary intensity, the cinematography is incredibly uninventive, almost dull, and moreover some scenes just don't feel right. Especially some of the barefaced allusions to "Infernal Affairs" may be proving the point that there is a good amount of humor to be found in this film, but they somehow lack the necessary wink for us to get along with it.

During the first minutes the continuous shift in the movie's mood becomes really annoying. However, as you dive deeper and deeper into the world of some of the interesing characters, you learn to oversee these flaws. Towards the end things get better, anyway, and somehow the director even manages to get things right, so that everything resolves in a way that is acceptable for the viewer. Whereas it even gets surprisingly gritty and unforgiving.
"Operation Undercover" deserves credit for the simple fact that it is not a cheap "IA" clone, but actually manages to stand on its own feet. There are ups and downs, but the cast and the character-driven aspect of the film prove to be really entertaining. Keeping in mind that Wong Jing produced this movie you just have to give some words of praise. Despite the many flaws.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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