Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone (2000)

Directed by
Not quite as topical as it once was, but still exceptional
Reviewed by Simon on 2022-06-24

JIANG HU: THE TRIAD ZONE has lost some relevance in the 22 years since its release because it was notable as a counterpoint to the Triad films that were common in Hong Kong at the time. It is a sharp and funny deconstruction of the Triad mythos expressed in films like the YOUNG & DANGEROUS series.

The film follows a dai lo played by Tony Leung Ka-Fai in a revelatory performance, as an assassination attempt kicks off a turf war between rival gangs. So far so familiar, but the film subverts conventions and expectations in ways large and small.

Sandra Ng gives another remarkable performance as Tony's wife, from a comical flashback to their meeting in London to the important role she plays in keeping the organisation together when he becomes a boss. She was on fire at the time, finally shedding her image as "the comic relief" with this and Juliet In Love in the same year.

Roy Cheung almost steals the show as Tony's bodyguard and right hand man, with a very understated performance that raises some interesting questions about the bonds of brotherhood that Triad films so often revolve around.

Samuel Pang leaves an impression in his debut role, as a young triad starting out on the path Big Tony followed years earlier, perpetuating the cycle.

Two scenes are pivotal to understanding the film. One is absolutely unsubtle - Anthony Wong literally appears as Guan Yu, the God that modern Triad organisations profess to represent, and finds the Triads of modern Hong Kong to be something of a disappointment.

The second scene is more subtle but has sharper spikes... Tony visits Eric Tsang in prison, one of his closest brothers when they were getting started who got sent down and whom he hasn't visited in years. Tsang's performance is beautiful, the desperate need to believe in that unbreakable bond of brotherhood that sustains him in his long imprisonment visibly battling suppressed rage at the manifest untruth of it.

There are many moments throughout the film that expose the lies Hong Kong movies often propagated about Triad loyalty and honour... entirely unconnected to the fact they were often produced and funded by organisations with Triad links, I'm sure.

The script is often hilarious and occasionally heart-breaking, and serves up some thoughtful insights through its rich characterisation. The cinematography and staging is consistently excellent.

It's weird that Dante Lam would go on to be known for directing big budget jingoistic military blockbusters after getting started with clever, subtle films like this and the underrated Runaway. The world has changed a lot since the turn of the millennium, and more so in Hong Kong than most places.

Side note: it's heartening to see that a band called The Egg were still playing gigs in London after the ten or twenty years that have elapsed between the two sections that were filmed there ;-)