Director: Daniel Chan
Starring: William Chan, Michele Wai, Derek Tsang
Three young friends; William (William Chan), Derek (Derek Tsang), and Edward (Edward Chui) are looking to make it in the world shortly after the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The studious and loyal William wants nothing more than to provide for his mother and excels in college because of it. When circumstances cause the three friends to take up employment with a local triad boss (Patrick Tam), things go well because the trust and care Patrick provides. Over nearly the next decade, the gangster life will alter these friends as they become heavy players in the local crime scene and where they end up may be nowhere near where they expected.
The first feature film from up and comer director Daniel Chan, Triad is a throwback of sorts to the 90’s era of crime films with some minor updates to go along with the progression of time, both within the world of the characters and the real world growth of Hong Kong cinema. What we get is a type of uneven filmmaking that clearly aspires to emulate some truly iconic pictures, but never quite gets up to speed in a way to really engage the audience.
Starting off in 1997, the look of the film was super nostalgic for me, as this era really nurtured a personal exploration of HK genre cinema for a much younger me at the time. Clothing, cellular phones, and hairstyles all brought me back to some good memories visually, but that is where the love dies. Acting leans to the over the top, and while this is not uncommon many triad-centric films, it always feel like they’re acting instead of ever feeling natural. The brunt of the pathos goes to the former idol-turned-actor William Chan, whose babyish looks and lack of screen presence is a death yell for the film. I could clearly see some flashes of genuine acting in there, but these bit are much too far apart to string together enough to salvage a by the books production.
I did feel that the supporting characters had quite a bit more to offer, especially the very winning Patrick Tam. He tends to impress in most of the films that I’ve seen him in and he is clearly a notch or two above these younger actors. The female actors, minus Irene Wan, appear mainly to ground the film with requisite ‘romantic’ interludes to soften the gangsters, but their roles boil down to batting eyes and looking pretty. Throw in a quiet performance by character actor Chan Wai-man and it’s not all bad, but the best bits leave you merely wanting more.
The film itself maintains a solid ‘throwback’ look and I quite appreciated that; the production was good and though I was actively looking for anachronisms, I didn’t really find any aside from an occasional car in the background. If only the same care went into the scripting and direction. William Chan himself sings a pretty forgettable ballad as the films theme song, it isn’t bad and the like the thought that went into it, but it lacks the oomph of many of the great HK themes of the past.
In the end, Triad is one of those missed opportunities with some minor flashes of light, but it ultimately fails in being either engaging or unique. Rather than clearly extolling the passion that many young Triad members have in such a line of work, Chan and company give us a tepid reminder of the better and more colorful day, long since past.
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!