Director: Wong Jing
Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Huang Xiaoming, Yasuaki Kurata, Monica Mok, Yuan Quan
A young country boy Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiaoming) and his young girlfriend Ye Zhiqiu (Feng Wen juan) are separated when he is framed for a crime by the local police captain. Saved from execution by government agent Mao Zai (Francis Ng), he embarks on a career in illicit activities and rises through the ranks as a triad boss and leader. Now a prominent member of Shanghai, the older Cheng (Chow Yun-fat) finds his past catching up to him when he reunites with the now famous and older Zhiqiu (Yuan Quan). As Shanghai finds itself on the cusp of military action by the Japanese, will Cheng try to preserve his empire at the cost of loyalty to his boss and blood brother Hong (Sammo Hong) or will he use the skills he’s gotten as a master tactician to defend the city against invasion?
The name Wong Jing can bring about many different emotions among Hong Kong film fans. He’s certainly a mainstream-style director that is able to get the biggest stars and large budgets for his work despite the abysmal quality of a number of past productions. I always go into one of his films with a guarded optimism; that his stars, and The Last Tycoon has many of them, will carry the film to at least an entertaining couple of hours. Honestly, The Last Tycoon may be one of his best films in years.
A generally straightforward period gangster/resistance film, The Last Tycoon thankfully lacks the odd humor that typically populates a Jing film. Instead there are huge sets, terrific costumes, and some very stylish action. The multiple shifts in time periods actually works well as bits of each actor’s character is revealed slowly. It also gives younger actors, Xiaoming, Wenjuan, and Kimmy Tong a chance to outshine their more distinguished older selves. Francis Ng is good as the manipulative Zai, he rarely turns in a bad performance it seems.
The aforementioned action is indeed stylish; standouts scenes include a kidnapping attempt thwarted by Gao Hu, a church shootout, and the raid sequence towards the end. Blood flies and shots fired from handguns hit their mark with HK film precision. There is a noticeably ‘explosion friendly’ theme in this film and there are huge fireballs and destruction abounds. It was surprising at first, but the effects and budget are put to good use.
Director Wong Jing is pretty divisive a figure in HK cinema. He is apt to copy techniques and at times caters to lowest common denominator audiences, especially with his comedies. The Last Tycoon is a competently done action film that has excellent actors doing decent performances. Without much in the way of real style or director’s identity however, the film still comes off as disposable despite how generally entertaining the whole affair is. Good action and performances highlight this film, and it is good to see that the influence of the Chinese government in film has at least helped Wong to become a more even director.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Blood Brothers and/or Jiang Hu
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!