To Live and Die in Tsimshatsui
Directors: Andrew Lau, Wong Jing
Stars: Jacky Cheung, Roy Cheung, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Wu Chien-Lin, Gigi Lai
An undercover cop Ah Kit (Jacky Cheung) and his best friend Ah Bong are sent in to get evidence on a crime boss known as Coffin Tung. After a raid goes wrong and Tung is killed, his gang splits into two factions. Kit is sent to infiltrate the one led by Roy Cheung and Bong is sent into the other gang. Being separated from his best friend (not to mention feeling responsibilty for the death of Tung, someone who he had admired) sends Kit into a downward spiral. It doesn't help things out when he gets drunk at his girlfriend's (Lai) mother's birthday party and makes an ass out of himself, which causes Lai to run to Kit's sleazy superior. Kit's only solace is the occasional night out drinking with Bong. During one of these drinking sessions, the two hook up with low-level hood Tony Leung Ka-Fai, who is having his own domestic problems, but manages to help Kit get in good with Roy Cheung and his bitchy sister Wu Chien-Lin. As you might imagine, all these loose ends draw together near the end of the film and Kit must decide whom to help -- the cops he hates but feels he has a duty to or the hoods who he has grown to treat as his family.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed To Live and Die. The plot has been done many times before, especially by Lau, who would go on to direct several similar movies in the next few years, including the Young and Dangerous series. But the script is well-written and manages to give all the characters enough room to develop so that they don't become the cookie-cutter gangsters and cops all too present in this type of movie.
Even the romantic subplots (which normally ruin or drastically slow down most crime films) are well-handled, with very little in the way of melodrama. Speaking of which, Lau's direction keeps the pacing tight and thankfully free of the overacting which can destroy this type of movie. All of the actors work well in the movie, especially Jacky Cheung, who manages to restrain himself enough to give a believable portrayal of a cop that's gone too far undercover. Wu Chien-Lin (probably one of the most under-rated HK actresses) also gives a good performance, elevating her character above the one-dimensional female seen all too much in films on both sides of the ocean. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Gigi Lai, who seems to only be in the film as window dressing. But thankfully her character doesn't figure too heavily into the plot in the long run. Roy Cheung does his standard cool gangster role to near perfection and Tony Leung Ka-Fai is also quite good as a cowardly Triad who holds secrets of his own.
Though there is little in the way of action, what is in there (mainly a shootout in the middle and at the end, which were directed by Wong Jing) is well done, and, actually, adding Woo-style gunplay to the film would have probably taken away from the plot. The only real detriment to To Live and Die is the ending. The plot is wrapped up much too quickly and the tone is just too happy compared to the bleak setup of the finale. It comes off as very "Hollywood," where everything is wrapped up into a nice little package just to satisfy the audience. But otherwise, To Live and Die is a good mix of action, drama and romance that's well worth watching.
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