A True Mob Story: ”But, what I couldn’t imagine is that being a leading light isn’t as gorgeous as what you see in the movies.”

Year: 1998
Directed by Wong Jing
Produced by Wong Jing

Written by Wong Jing
Cast: Andy Lau, Gigi Leung, Suki Kwan, Mark Cheng, Alex Fong Chung-Sun, Joe Ma, Sam Lee, Chi Hung Ng, Ben Ng, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Lee Siu-Kei, and Tian-lin Wang

A low-ranking hoodlum attempts to rise through the ranks of the Triad but he finds out that his Triad society doesn’t value his commitments nor his sacrifices. The criminal underworld and the law enforcement threaten to ruin his life at every turn.

”There is no honor among thieves”. Perhaps this saying is more true for the triads. Hong Kong cinema has long glorified the triads. It has created a fantasy the the life of crime can be a honorable one. Wong Jing whose name is a byname for sleazy comedies, so it’s odd to see him take it upon himself to bring down the triads to size. A True Mob Story’s dissection wasn’t out of the blue since the late 90s saw the constant flux of pictures featuring the triads. A True Mob Story does hit the similar beats to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas but in terms of cynicism towards the life of crime, A True Mob Story stoops even lower. Honor and glory was always in the reach in Goodfellas while honor and glory in A True Mob Story is practically illusionary.

So-called ”heroic” triads are portrayed as vehicles of masculine virtues able to enact their own brand of justice without renouncing somehow their humanity. Cheung Dee’s place in the criminal underworld is something less edifying. Someone like Cheung Dee is not cut out to be a high ranking triad. Cheung Dee’s criminal career is nothing but an awkward charade in which Chueng Dee constantly is forced to ”lose face”. A point that’s poignantly self-evident when the kids of the high ranking triads tell Cheung Dee’s son, ”my daddy said your daddy is a dog”. Perhaps, being a goon for the triad is little more than an exercise in being a ”dog”. Every dog bites back if you bother it long enough, so even Cheung Dee eventually does.

Violence was often the means used to glorify the triads. That violence usually takes the form of martial arts or frantic shootouts.
The violence in A True Mob Story is reduced to its bare necessities due to the violence lacking any spiced up choreography. It’s hauntingly crude and simple. The violence is much closer in the realm of hyperrealism. Neverwhere is Cheung Dee’s humanity felt better during moments of action. Cheung Dee is more often on the defensive than on the offensive. The false notion that a single hero can change their course of their destiny through sheer force themselves alone is one of the most dangerous myths that cinema has created. A True Mob Story dispels this notion by offering a hero whose martial ability is grounded in reality. Cheung Dee can’t override the brute force of multiple goons at once.

Andy Lau has already given a similar performance prior to this in Dragon in Jail. A triad trying to leave the life of crime must come natural to Andy Lau. Few actors in Hong Kong have a melodramatic flair better than Andy Lau. Andy Lau’s adeptness at melodrama turns Cheung Dee into one hell of a performance.

Though, it’s certainly not perfect, a certain love triangle might be repellent to some viewers. A melodrama twist in otherwise, a pretty straightforward crime thriller. Then again, if you’re watching a picture starting Andy Lau, you should be prepared to taste some romantic melodrama. The romantic angle between Cheung Dee, and his lawyer, Sandy Leung borders on the ludicrous although it’s a plus ultimately in my book, because it fundamentally furthers the underlying tragedy of Cheung Dee’s story.

A True Mob Story is a slightly uneven tale of a triad’s rise and fall that is a worthy testament of the harshness that the triad lifestyle demands, and it’s unsuitability for decent men.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s