Although Stephen Chow is obviously best known for his comedic genius and hits such as “Kung Fu Hustle” and “Shaolin Soccer”, as a young actor he paid his dues in a variety of genres. Inevitably, as with pretty much every other performer of his generation, this saw him making a number of appearances in that most enduring of 1990s trends, namely the Triad drama. The unimaginatively titled “Triad Story”, directed by Shum Wai, better known as a bit part actor who turned up in the likes of “Police Story 3”, was one such early role, which saw him star alongside an impressive cast of veterans including Ng Man Tat, Wu Ma, Shing Fui On and Billy Chow.
The film begins in familiar style with Triad boss Feng (Ke Jun Hsung, another instantly recognisable face who featured in a number of Jackie Chan films including “The Canton Godfather” and “Island of Fire“) being released from jail after a twenty year stretch. Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, he finds the world a very different place, and his attempts to go straight are hampered by his daughter Lily’s involvement with a particularly nasty young thug called Sun. After Sun’s men attack his son Sing (Stephen Chow), Feng gathers his old gang together and tries to make peace. Needless to say this doesn’t work and when Sun announces that he plans to take Lily off to America, all out war erupts.
Although the plot of “Triad Story” is basic and entirely predictable, the theme of old, honourable gangsters fighting vicious young upstarts is always an entertaining one, and director Shum does add a few vague innovations. Feng makes for a decent and sympathetic protagonist, mainly since he doesn’t spend half the running time bemoaning his fate in the standard reluctant martyr role. The film’s evocation of brotherhood and loyalty is surprisingly genuine, and as the noble deaths and declarations of revenge flood in it’s hard for the viewer not to get dragged along with the old devils as they go about showing the new generation of goons how things should be done. It’s all very macho, with the female characters only being on hand to be slapped around or have their fingers cut off for no other reason than to add a further sense of righteous indignation to the good Triads’ endeavours. In moral terms the film is amusingly black and white, with the guns of the wrongdoers somehow being seen as less reprehensible than the honest knives and choppers of the ambiguously criminal Feng and co.
However, what really makes the film fun is the cast, with Ng Man Tat, Wu Ma and Shing Fui On in particular being good value for money, really giving their all and adding a genuine sense of enthusiasm to their henchmen roles. Despite his star billing, Stephen Chow only appears in a handful of scenes, though he acquits himself well enough, and does get a chance to show off some of his martial arts skills towards the end.
Shum’s direction is solid, if unspectacular, and he manages to avoid the worst melodramatic excesses that films of the genre tend to be prone to. If nothing else, he certainly keeps the action scenes coming, and the film is entertainingly violent during the last act, with the inevitable final mass brawl being exciting and well choreographed. There are a few memorable moments of inventive gruesomeness, including a great scene in a snake shop and a gory kneecapping, and these help to give the film an authentic feel in the finest Hong Kong style.
As such, “Triad Story” is definitely a superior example of the form, thanks largely to its excellent cast of genre veterans. Although nothing new, it does stand out somewhat from the hordes of similarly themed films from the period and should certainly be enjoyed by aficionados and anyone looking for an old school, gritty crime thriller.
Wai Shum (director)
CAST: Billy Chow … Chiang
Stephen Chow … Sin
Chun Hsiung Ko … Feng
Man Tat Ng … Tat
Fui-On Shing … Maddy
Wai Shum … Wai
Ma Wu … Ma