Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Club

                                                  Director: Kirk Wong
        Starring: Chan Wai Man, Tsui Siu Keung, Kent Cheng, Kao Fei , Kwan Yung Moon

"Without a doubt, the best Gangster film to come out of Hong Kong is The Club"

When you see a quote like this from the film's star, it may initially come off as the rantings of an egomaniac. But in the case of one Michael Chan Wai Man, there is much foundation for such a bold statement. One of Hong Kong cinema's true tough guys, Chan not only starred in this pivitol gangster saga but as an apparent triad member himself lived it to a degree as well, lending this film an uncomfortable air of autobiographical realism that must have sent viewers reeling.

In the film, Chan plays an honorable gang member who helps open and run a new glitzy nightclub (The 'Club' of the title though there could well be multiple meanings behind the film's naming). It doesn't take long for opposition to rear it's ugly head and Chan finds himself slowly under siege not only from a rival gang, but from within his own network as well.

No two ways about it, 'The Club' is one of the toughest and most uncompromising films ever made. It is the very antithesis of the later John Woo/Heroic Bloodshed type of filmmaking and much credit should go to director Kirk Wong. There are no loving Leone style closeups nor the beautiful slow mo Peckinpah shootouts that populated Woo's films. Wong's camera is simple, direct and unforgiving. The air of sleeze and grunge is so thick, you could slice it with a katana. It is about as unromantic an atmosphere as could be asked for. Wong also fills his film with some disarming imagery; from the nude female club dancers (complete with rubber monster masks) who dance to the tune of Fleetwood Mac's 'Tusk' (!) to the disturbing slaying of Chan's friend in a hotel (uncomfortably juxtaposed with a vigorous sex scene between Chan and his Japanese squeeze), the sound of the slaughter ultimately being drowned out by outside construction workers.

The characters likewise are treated matter of factly, as if everyone is resolved to their situation. As Chan's character looses everything he holds dear, his reaction (hotheaded though he may be) is not one of sympathetic emotion but rather of steely resolve. In the finale as he attempts to single handedly confront his gang rivals in the very nightclub he had helped establish, he is suddenly joined by his closest confiidant (suavely portrayed by Tsui Siu Keung) who had previously refused to get involved. Wong does not allow this moment to be romanticized. Their exchange is a brief, wordless one that more than gets it's point across as the two casually and robotically storm the club, swords and knives in hand. The final effect is as chilling as it is gripping.

It's really a shame that a film as important as 'The Club' has yet to surface uncut and remastered in any format. It is an important and seminal film in the development of the modern Heroic Bloodshed genre and deserves far more attention than it has so far received.

                                                           Rating: 7/10

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