Colour of the Game
Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 98 mins.
Director: Kan Jiawei 阚家伟.
Efficient but uninspired underworld drama is like a superior B-movie from late 1980s Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, the present day. Acting on a tip-off from his underworld mole, inspector Chen (Huang Debin) raids a flat for drugs in Guantang [Kwun Tong] district, Kowloon. Meanwhile, weary gunman Dahua (Ren Dahua) is ready to retire but would like to do one last big job. He’s summoned by Da Jibao (Lin Xue), who asks him to eliminate Robert (Ye Xiangming), the cocky son of veteran gangster Brother Nine (Li Zixiong), who accidentally killed the woman of triad boss Long (Liu Zhaoming) during the latter’s birthday party. Da Jibao says the order comes direct from Long himself, despite Brother Nine being a member of Long’s triad. Dahua insists on using his own team: trusted protege Gao Tian (Wu Yunlong); old colleague Chun (Chen Xiaochun), just released from prison; young, eager Superman (Liang Liewei); crippled restaurateur BBQ (Zhang Zhaohui); and his own car-mechanic daughter, Liqiang (Qiu Lufan). They arrange the hit to take place at a small harbour in Xigong [Sai Kung], in the New Territories, but find they’ve been set up. In the gun battle both Liqiang and BBQ are wounded. Chun causes waves by saying there’s an informer in their midst. Meanwhile, Chen, who had earlier heard about the hit, is pressured by a superior (Tang Zirui) to reveal who his longtime mole is. Chun uses his woman, bargirl Feifei (Gui Jingjing), whom Robert already knows, to entrap Robert at his home, but again the hit fails. The police bring in Dahua and his gang for questioning at Youmadi [Yau Ma Tei] police station but can’t make any charge stick. Dahua sets out to track down the mole, and discover who wants his team dead.
The third and weakest in the Colour series of underworld sagas by Hong Kong writer-director-producer Wang Jing 王晶 [Wong Jing], Colour of the Game 黑白迷宫 is a solid shoot-’em-up that could have been made in the late 1980s or early 1990s, at which time it would have been lost in the crowd. Like its forebears, it’s basically a superior B-movie with an A-list crime cast, though this time Wang, instead of taking a co-directing credit along with all his others, has handed over those reins entirely to his longtime a.d. Kan Jiawei 阚家伟, who delivers an efficient but uninspired package. It’s all a long way from the punchy first entry in the series, Colour of the Truth 黑白森林 (2003), co-directed by Wang and Mai Zishan 麦子善 [Marco Mak], and even the rather lesser Colour of the Loyalty 黑白战场 (2005), co-directed by Zhong Shaoxiong 钟少雄 [Billy Chung] (see posters, left).
The so-called trilogy is linked only by the use of similar titles (Colour in English, 黑白 in Chinese) and the films being underworld sagas with lots of double-crossing. (The Chinese titles literally mean “Black and White Forest”, “Black and White Battlefield” and “Black and White Labyrinth”.) One wonders why, after 12 years, Wang decided to resurrect the idea. Answer: money from giant Mainland video platform iQiyi, for which Wang already made robo-girl comedy-romance iGirl 梦情人 (2016), co-directed by Kan. Though still pretty routine, Game is a step up from iGirl, with a better if still formulaic script (by Wang) and a seasoned cast that can do this kind of stuff with one hand tied behind its collective back.
As ageing gangster Dahua, who just wants to retire but agrees to one last hit with his regular team, Ren Dahua 任达华 [Simon Yam], 62, brings a grizzled authority to the role that holds the whole thing together and has easy chemistry with fellow veteran Chen Xiaochun 陈小春 [Jordan Chan], 50, as his ex-con pal. The movie is thick with the usual Hong Kong faces – Lin Xue 林雪 [Lam Suet], Li Zixiong 李子雄 [Waise Lee], Zhang Zhaohui 张兆辉 [Eddie Cheung] – making one realise how little the acting landscape for this type of Hong Kong film has changed in the past couple of decades.
Alas, it also points up the shortage of replacement talent: as the younger member of Dahua’s team, Hong Kong’s Liang Liewei 梁烈唯 (the asthmatic druggie in Firestorm 风暴, 2013) is over-ripe but colourless, and ditto Mainland actor Ye Xiangming 叶项明 as the cocky gangster’s son who causes so much trouble for Dahua & Co. Middle-generation Chinese American actor/stuntman Wu Yunlong 伍允龙 [Philip Ng], 40, isn’t really up to the crucial role of Dahua’s protege, though as the film’s action co-ordinator he does give himself a natty fight sequence near the end. In her first major film part, 29-year-old Mainland actress Qiu Lufan 邱璐璠 (aka Qiu Yinong 邱意浓) starts strongly as Dahua’s tomboy daughter but is later stranded by the script, which doesn’t know what to do with her character in such a male universe.
Apart from occasional touches like letting the camera linger on faces during ensemble moments, Kan turns in a standard job. A case in point is a long meal scene with four characters in which three of them wait for the fourth to confess as he eats bowl after bowl of rice. It’s a nice serio-comic set-up and, for a film with a who-is-the-mole plot, should be one of the highpoints; in the event, it’s just OK, and light on real suspense. One can only imagine what an experienced director like Du Qifeng 杜琪峰 [Johnnie To] could have done with the same actors and material.
The resolution of Wang’s screenplay is also weak: the mole can be easily guessed from a clue in the dialogue and the revelation is dramatically ho-hum, eclipsed by a parallel development and a routine stand-off finale. Production values are OK, with a grungy, atmospheric look that also evokes budget quickies from the late 1980s. Mainland box office was a blah RMB33 million.
Presented by iQiyi Pictures (Beijing) (CN), Mega-Vision Project Workshop (HK). Produced by Mega-Vision Project Production (HK).
Script: Wang Jing [Wong Jing]. Photography: Wu Jingwen. Editing: Li Jiarong. Music: Dai Wei. Art direction: Chen Miaoling. Costume design: Ouyang Xia. Action: Wu Yunlong. Visual effects: Mo Haoxin, Cao Zhanneng.
Cast: Ren Dahua [Simon Yam] (Dahua/Wallace), Chen Xiaochun [Jordan Chan] (Chun/Tyson), Wu Yunlong (Gao Tian/Sky), Zhang Zhaohui [Eddie Cheung] (Chashao/BBQ), Huang Debin (Chen, police inspector), Liu Zhaoming (Long/Dragon), Li Zixiong [Waise Lee] (Jiu Ge/Brother Nine/Nigel), Lin Xue [Lam Suet] (Da Jibao/Slaughter), Qiu Lufan (Liqiang/Lily, Dahua’s daughter), Liang Liewei (Chaoren/Superman), Tang Zirui (Zhou Qian, senior police inspector), Ye Xiangming (Luobotou/Robert, Nine’s son), Gui Jingjing (Feifei), Meng Xiaoyi (Tianna/Tina).
Release: China, 31 Aug 2017; Hong Kong, 14 Sep 2017.