Director: Lam Nai Choi
Satrring: Jason Pai Piao, Wong Yung, Lo Mang, Michael Miu Kiu Wai, Chen Pei Hsi
This is an early effort from noted director Lam Nai Choi (he who lensed many Hong Kong cult favorites such as The Seventh Curse, Killer's Nocturne and the now legendary Story of Ricky) and while it may not feature the sheer outrageousness that dominated his later work, it is still quite an eye opening piece of late period Shaw Brothers action.
Racing ahead at full throttle, 'Men From The Gutter' features no less than three seperate and somewhat disparate storylines. We are first introduced to a trio of down on their luck ex-cons (one with a pregnant girlfriend in tow) who are planning an armored truck heist. Our second group of protagonists are an on-edge police unit and their attempts to take down a druglord. Our third participant is an assassin (Jason Pai Piao) who is returning to settle a score with an old rival.
Director Lam even at this early stage in his career (this I believe was only his third film) displayed his fearlessness at trying something different. That we have intertwinding stories is not unusual, but how little they are actually intertwined certaintly is (one of our three scenarios ends early on and is barely reated upon). That we never once feel as though we are watching separate films (ala Godfrey Ho cut and paste epics) is a real tribute to Lam's skills. Everything feels organic, assured and correct. Lam also shows here that he was already a master of brutal carnage. As with his later entries (particularly Killer's Nocturne) you really feel it when the action comes. The early squash match between Pai Piao and the ever dangerous looking Lee Hoi Sang is positively wince inducing.
Among the cast, Jason Pai Piao gives one of the most subtle yet intense oerformances of his lengthy career. 'Venom' fave Lo Mang is always entertaining and his perf as a hot headed cop siuts him well. As the pregnant girlfriend, I barely recognized Chen Pei Hsi. So memorable as the mata hari-like female ninja in the previous year's 'Five Element Ninja' (aka Super Ninjas), she has sadly little to do here. It seems her career never took off after such a promising start.
As with 'Hong Kong Godfather' (reviewed earlier in this blog), 'Men From the Gutter' proves that the mighty Shaw Brothers were both willing and able to keep up with their contemporaries who were leading the way in the modern action uprising in the '80s. That such a strong an entry as this was virtually ignored upon release was a greater crime than any committed within it's reels.