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Original Title:
Yat kor ho ba ba

Hong Kong 2008

Comedy, Drama

Sylvia Chang

Louis Koo
Rene Liu
Liu Yihan
Nora Miao
Lam Suet
Max Mok
Ken Lo
Chan Wai-Man
Kent Cheng
Yin Yin Shaw
Wong Chun Kau
Ti Lung
Fruit Chan

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Run Papa Run

Story: Lee Tin-Yun (Louis Koo) is a member of the triad organisation "Loyalty Society" for which his father worked for, too. Since he can remember his family only consists of his mother (Nora Miao), though, who really isn't happy about the path her son has chosen in life. However, for Tin-Yun things couldn't be any better. Together with his subordinates Big Mouth (Lam Suet) und Big Eyes (Max Mok) he works his way up within the triad hierarchy until he can call several business branches his own. When one day he meets his new lawyer Mabel Chan (Rene Liu) he immediately wants to possess her. But after a night with the strict Catholic he gets the news that will change his whole life forever. She is pregnant! As things are Tin-Yun can't just disappear and so he has to keep his word and marry her. When little Hai-Yi (Liu Yihan) comes into the world Tin-Yun actually starts to show paternal feelings and a sense of responsibility. He hides the fact that he is a triad member from his daughter and after many years finally wants to quit the business. But this seems to be impossible...

Review: When we think of triad movies then dark and bloody thrillers revolving around brotherhood and betrayal come to mind. Maybe we also think of one or two wacky comedies. However, despite its flaws "Run Papa Run" is refreshingly different as it blends genres so that comedy and drama coexist while at the same time also refraining from underlying things with too dark of an undertone. The end product may not present itself in a ballanced fashion, yet is entertaining and at times more emotionally involving than we might have expected possible. The more lighter tone allows easy access to the movie and the characters can keep up the viewer's interest at all times. Therefore, you can also forgive that many of the good ideas aren't worked out to the very end. Despite some slowdowns midway through the movie offers enough diversity and wit to clearly make it stand out at times from your average Hong Kong cinema.

The drama tone always remains apparent, even though it seldomly stands in the foreground. Already at the beginning we learn that Lee Tin-Yun has died and thus make a journey into his past. During that trip Lee himself accompanies us as a narrator telling us a little bit more about his life. What's also unusual is that Lee breaks one of the rules of cinema by directly turning to the viewer and speaking into the camera when giving some commentary about his actions. This could easily get quite annoying for the viewer, but not here as director Sylvia Chang proves to have a good sense for comedy and narrative necessity. She loosens up the complex narration through these insertions a bit and at the same time also gives the film a small piece of epic nature. She even doesn't stop at implementing a little singing scene of Rene Liu, but here it's the same as before: It doesn't feel as out of place as it may sound.

"Run Papa Run" covers several decades of Lee Tin-Yun's life. In the beginning we see him with awful haircuts and clothes when painting the town red at the end of the 70s, later on not only his appearance normalizes, but he also gets older. The grey hair and the beard really work wonders and Louis Koo ("Rob-B-Hood", "Overheard") also manages to give his character some matureness. Which brings us to the biggest surprise and most unexpected plus of the film: Louis Koo. He somewhat has to blame himself that you still can't take him serious as an actor. The roles he became famous for were those of the sensitive playboy who has a knack for comiclike overacting. But Koo can do a lot more than that. That is if he wants to. These days you see him in every other Hong Kong movie anyway and so we can only hope that in the future he will grab a role that will finally make him establish himself as a serious actor. His role in "Run Papa Run" definitely is a step into the right direction.

Koo credibly brings on screen how his character changes over the years. Rene Liu ("A World without Thieves", "Double Vision") also manages to help create the feeling that actually several years pass by in which the relationship of the two undergoes some changes. The cast is complemented by some guest stars like Lam Suet, Fruit Chan and even Ti Lung!
Lee becomes more and more soft as the film progresses and we only get to see little from his times as a tough gangster. Still, in return there is something professional his character oozes out in his later years which can be pretty frightening as well. Fortunately Tin-Yun was never a monster to begin with, though. Even if there are some hints, we never really see him do anything cruel. This is a wise decision because otherwise the more comedic additions wouldn't have worked out and his change to the duteous father wouldn't have been credible either.

The dramatic moments also stand as an unexpected highlight as they are worked into the movie with a fine sense for details. Especially during the moments with Tin-Yun's mother we get an emotional depth that is surprising. Therefore, it seems even more negative that we are left behind with too many loose ends when the credits roll. "Run Papa Run" manages to work in some final twist but Sylvia Chang's work isn't completed in a really satisfying manner. If the movie had taken more time to dissolve the problems of the characters and avoided some unnecessary lengths during the middle part "Run Papa Run" could have become a really nice movie. As it is we get a triad movie that is different in nature than what we are used to see, manages to entertain and even holds some quality moments in store, yet can't work on a high level until the very end.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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