Though I’ve not been in Hong Kong since November of 2013, I try to keep abreast of the best films coming out of Hong Kong. Released back just last November 8th, Gangster Payday stars the long time popular Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong as a mobster/hoodlum and co-stars Charlene Choi as the proprietress of a Hong Kong tea shop.
Wong, who is called Brother Ghost in the film, plays an old school triad gang leader, he’s got his own crew, and he’s got some massage parlors and karaoke bars in his portfolio. He’s also the owner (landlord) of the building that houses the tea shop owned by Mei (Charlene Choi).
Now Brother Ghost wants to step away from the dirty crimes and rackets of loan sharking and prostitution and wants nothing to do with the drug trade. He wants to be legit – or said in other words – he wants to go straight.
But getting out is even harder than getting in. A rival gang leader has stepped into the real estate development business, which seems honest on the surface. But the reality is that they put the muscle on the neighborhood Mom and Pop stores and shops, eventually forcing them to sell or go out of business. Then they step in and buy out the businesses for a fraction of their worth and sell the same properties off to the big developers at huge profits.
Now Brother Ghost has taken a shine to the young Mei. She’s basically inherited the tea shop business and is still learning the ropes, but she is willing to work hard. While Ghost is making it clear to Mei that he is willing to help her fend off the developer who is putting the pressure on her, he also wants to have a relationship with her.
But Mei has taken a shine to Leung who is one of Ghost’s young lieutenants.
So there’s both halves of your story – two men who want the same woman, and all trying to fend off the shark-like real estate developer.
Triad films have long been a genre staple in the Hong Kong film industry. Anthony Wong is only 54 years old but he’s had roles in 191 films. He first burst into world-wide prominence as the villain playing opposite Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung in the John Woo bullet ballet called Hard Boiled in 1992.
He’s played uniformed cops, homicide detectives, and high-ranking police inspectors. In the film Infernal Affairs, he had the same role that Martin Sheen played in the US remake directed by Martin Scorsese, The Departed. He’s also played assassins or hit men, triad bosses, and criminals of every stripe.
Charlene Choi is 33 and she’s already acted in 49 films. She was also one half of the world-famous Hong Kong Pop Group – The Twins. So she has been in the public eye for some time.
Directed by Lee Po-Cheung, Gangster Payday sort of stands the triad gangster genre on its head by grafting both romance and comedy on to the already established triad movies. For the most part it works. Have a look at the trailer –
While Brother Ghost looks a wee bit ridiculous pursuing a woman 20 years younger than he is, his intentions are good. Not only that, but he rallies his own crew in support of Mei so that they all begin to work in the tea house.
Mei is nobody’s play thing either. She’s a young and attractive woman, but she’s far from easy. She carries herself with a certain pureness which stands out from the other women we see in the film – you know the bar girls and massage girls. Her romance with Leung stands in stark contrast with that of his Boss, Brother Ghost.
So this is a gangster film without gunplay, without drug wars, and without mountains of cash. It’s a three corner romance with plenty of funny elements crossed with serious gangster tropes.
I thought it was fun, and I especially liked Choi’s performance. Anthony Wong looked kind of silly at times – I mean as a 50 plus year old triad boss – he was more punkish in appearance than you might expect. But when he needed to show some menace, he would become startlingly frightening. On the other hand, his rival called Bill, despite his fancy clothes, his urbanity, and his sophisticated criminal ventures, was simply a sleaze ball in better clothes.
I will bring this film in at three-point two five and recommend it if you have an interest in Hong Kong films and can recall the heyday of triad films in the last decade as well as the 90’s. If you do recall some of those triad films. then this is a film you’ll want to see. I bought the DVD in order to see this one.
Here is a music video of the film’s theme song. The singer is Jasmine Wong, and the song is called Remain As Is.