Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Protege (Hong Kong 2007)

It's a movie about the seedy world of drugs; those who deal, sell, and how people's lives are affected by it all. Doesn't sound like anything we haven't seen or heard before does it? Of course not. However, thanks to director Derek Yee, and performances ranging from good to fantastic from the cast, Protege winds up being one of the better Hong Kong movies I've seen in a very long time.

When I first heard about Protege, I understandably had my hopes up. Any movie with Andy Lau in it is sure to get my attention. Throw in tired, but edgy for Hong Kong subject matter, Daniel Wu, and Louis Koo, and you've got an almost slam-dunk recipe for success. The story revolves around Hong Kong's top drug lord Kwan (Andy Lau) who is beginning to show his age and thus needs someone to take over the 'business'. Enter Nick (Daniel Wu), who works for the police and has been undercover for the past seven years, learning the ins-and-outs of the drug trade presumably to take over as Kwan's successor. Nick lives in a shoddy apartment complex and is neighbors with Fan (Zhang Jingchu), who has a young daughter...and a heroin addiction. Fan's drug addiction appeals to Nick in the sense that he feels compelled to take care of her and her child. Thus, we are introduced into the two main worlds that Nick lives in: Kwan's business world of drugs where money is everything, and the devastating affects of addiction in Fan's world. Louis Koo plays Fan's junkie ex-husband who pops into the picture just in time to ruin any chance Fan may have had at cleaning up her act.

It's an outstanding cast that does it's best with the material they've been given. Andy Lau, as usual, puts forth a quality performance which makes me continue to believe that it would harder for him to put on a poor performance. Good acting just comes naturally to the man. Daniel Wu is an actor I've been on the fence about for a long time, but it seems that he's making more of an effort to take on more challenging, complex roles these days. My problem with him in this film is that even though he's been undercover for over seven years in the world of the drug trade, he seems completely oblivious to what drugs can really do to people. I couldn't help but think, “what are they teaching you in police academy?” His naivety at times really contradicted the story behind his character. Zhang Jingchu is the real stand-out in the film. Her performance really grabs a hold of you; making you feel her pain and struggle to overcome addiction. The only downside in the cast is having Louis Koo playing Fan's junkie ex-husband. Don't get me wrong, he's a more than capable actor, but he just didn't feel right for the role. The fact that they had to give him prosthetic teeth in order to “ugly him up”, should have been a sign for the casting director's to go with someone that isn't known to be a sex symbol. His character feels like a caricature of what a drug abuser should be, rather than what it really is.

The story is decent enough to keep your interest. Nick tells the events of what happens in the beginning of the movie in the form of narration. So really, it's all a matter of waiting to see how these events unfold. Nick learns a thing or two, or three, about the drug trade (so much so, that I felt like I could start my own drug empire after Andy Lau's lessons), and continues to develop relationships with Kwan and Fan throughout. Nick occasionally meets up with his superior to remain filled in on what's going on, but of course he has to remain conspicuous while working for Kwan. A major scene in the movie involves Nick running from customs agents who are watching his every move. Now this is supposed to be a suspenseful scene where Nick's cover could be blown, ruining years of work. Without giving anything away, I had serious problems with this scene and it had too many parts that just felt unnecessary. All I'll say is, “why weren't Nick's superiors communicating with customs to avoid situations like this!!??”

The movie wraps its characters up nicely in the end, with everything just feeling right and making sense...except for Nick's character. Watch the last five minutes and you'll know what I mean. Didn't he learn anything? Does he have the curious mind of a 10 year old? Some may think it's a necessary ending because everything comes full-circle (oh the irony! etc. etc.), but for me it just made me continue to question Nick's ability as an undercover agent...or a regular cop for that matter!

Protege felt like a mixed-bag for most of the film due to some poor thought behind certain characters (Nick and Louis Koo) and the fact that not a lot happens. However, the rest of it was strong enough to put my faith back into newer Hong Kong films. With the movies that have been coming out in the past few years, that's enough to give Protege a standing ovation. (Lee)

Buy Protege on DVD or VCD at YESASIA!

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