There’s no denying that recent years have been lean times for fans of triad and Hong Kong gang action, though there’s finally a splash of neon light at the end of the tunnel with the aptly named “Triad”. Appropriately for such a uniquely local and Hong Kong genre, the film was produced by the same team responsible for the “Lan Kwai Fong” duology and “Girl$”, and was written and directed by Daniel Chan, who also helmed Wong Jing’s soon to be seen “Young and Dangerous” reboot. As expected, the film showcases a cast of young up and coming talent as the rising gangsters, headlined by Sun Boyz singer William Chan (“Overheard”) and including Derek Tsang (“The Thieves”), Deep Ng (“The Viral Factor”) and Michelle Wai (“Lives in Flames”), plus veterans Patrick Tam (“The Detective 2”) and Irene Wan (“Exodus”).
The plot charts the rise of young William (William Chan), a poor though decent lad who after local gang boss Patrick (Patrick Tam) saves his mother from a market place attack decides to join the triad to protect his family. Backed by Patrick, William and his friends Edward (Edward Tsui) and Derek (Derek Tsang) fight their way up the ladder, winning the respect of their fellows largely through their fists and willingness to take on difficult missions. Everything changes when a new leadership election approaches, with mob war threatening and William being pitted against gang elder Ming (Lam Lei), his wife Irene (Irene Wan), and their ruthless deputy Kin (Deep Ng).
“Triad” is certainly nothing if not old school, and performs exactly as expected, providing a new re-run of the time honoured genre plots, motifs and clichés, making very little attempt to reinvent or truly modernise the form. Daniel Chan borrows liberally from past hits, mixing various bits and pieces from the likes of “Election”, “Young and Dangerous” and others and crashing them together at breakneck speed, clearly trying to cover as many bases as possible. The air of familiarity extends to the characters as well, with a script that churns out the usual kind of anti-hero figures that have populated these films since day one, protagonist William having a development arc which basically translates to being tough and getting tougher.
Although it plays out in entirely predictable fashion, what the film lacks in creativity and substance, it more than makes up for in enthusiasm, and Daniel Chan shows a fine grasp of what many triad film fans have been missing over the last few years. There’s a great deal of fun to be had here, and the film’s dedication to the genre comes across as a respectful attempt to recreate the mood and energy of the past rather than as a half-hearted copy. The action certainly comes thick and fast, with plenty of impressive mass brawls and vicious choppings, and this ensures that the film fairly sprints along, even if its many set pieces do feel stitched together at times.
Though anyone looking for the extreme violence or nastiness suggested by the category III certificate may be a little disappointed, the many (supposedly) authentic touches and scenes of triad rituals (handily highlighted by onscreen text) which won it the rating do make a difference, and gives a vague impression that Chan knew what he was talking about. His handling is equally assured, and very much in the finest genre style, making great use of the neon drenched back alleys of Hong Kong and giving the film a similarly convincing feel.
As a result, while it may be open to accusations of a lack of ambition or originality, the simple fact is that “Triad” succeeds in serving up the kind of action and hard-boiled fun which fans of the form haven’t seen for some time. Daniel Chan does a great job in recalling the wild heyday of the Hong Kong gang film, and on this modest score, for those who care at least, it’s hard to find much not to like.
Daniel Yee Heng Chan (director) / Chun Yu Kom, Si-Cheun Lee, Link Ling, Frankie Tam, Ka Yee Yim, Ming-Ho Yip (screenplay)
CAST: Wai-Man Chan
Kwok Cheung Tsang
Edward Wai Tung Tsui
William Chan Wai-Ting