Gang Master (1982)

Directed by
Reviewed by Simon on 2006-09-24

The Triad societies of today like to claim their lineage to the secret societies of Han Chinese that were formed after invasian by the Yuan from the North - patriots dedicated to overthrowing the barbarian invaders, governed by loyalty and honour. How exactly they think selling drugs and prostitutes in 21st Century Hong Kong is going to accomplish this I have no idea. Anyway, GANG MASTER is not about the Triads of today, but the original secret societies of yesteryear. It is quite unusual in that it does remind us of the connection to today's triads, showing how the kind of secret handshakes and ceremonies which we see today in films like Election made much more sense in a time when the patriots needed to keep their identity a secret to avoid being purged by the government.

Austin Wai plays a young martial arts master who is about to inherit the leadership of the Dragon Gang Triad society, until a letter is delivered by his own siblings which suggests he might really be a Mongol, and have killed to hide the truth. The seal on the letter is evidently credible enough to make the elders wary, and he is kicked out of the gang. He sets off to discover the truth about his own origins, and to prove his loyalty to the Han.

The plot is mostly transparent, but is enjoyable and does contain a few surprises and moments of genuine drama. The film is very well shot and directed. It's also quite action-packed, with some excellent choreography and performances. I hadn't paid Austin Wai that much attention previously, but this film shows that he is a very talented martial artist/acrobat and a passable actor, though he doesn't have typically "leading man" looks or charisma. He certainly delivers in this role though.

There is a strong supporting cast too, with Ku Feng getting to do most of the serious acting, and talents like Bruce Leung and Yuen Tak delivering excellent martial arts. Yuen Cheung-Yan's action is inventive and impressive, mixing intricate kung fu forms with some elaborately staged "new-wave" sequences and wirework. The "secret handshakes" and rituals of the gang sometimes get quite ridiculous - in a good way.

The film doesn't have the best story, the best action or the best production values, but it scores highly in all of these categories. Definitely worth a watch.