Admirers of John Woo’s Hong Kong gangster blockbusters undoubtedly will be satisfied by this exotic prequel, though Tsui Hark has taken the series in a somewhat surprising direction with this entry, scaling down the action and tossing in a romantic subplot.
As the alternate title, Love and Death in Saigon, suggests, pic takes place in Vietnam (for the most part) during the chaotic withdrawal of US troops in 1974. This ambitious setting gives Hark the opportunity to enlarge his canvas significantly and move away from the claustrophobic milieu of warring gangster clans defined in the first two films. Pic’s basic plot follows the efforts of amiable yet deadly Hong Hong hustler Mark (Chow Yun-fat), who travels to Saigon to secure exit visas for his uncle and cousin. Needless to say, he doesn’t accomplish this by standing in long lines at the customs office. Requiring large sums of cash for bribery, he becomes involved in smuggling US currency with his cousin Mun (Tony Leung) and black market temptress Kitty Chow (Anita Mui).
This scheme leads to the film’s most spectacular action sequence when the trio is doublecrossed by a sleazy North Vietnamese Army sergeant and required to outgun what seems to be a full regiment of soldiers. Only cognoscenti of Hong Kong-style screen carnage can accurately imagine the outlandish scope of the violence that ensues.
In many ways, Mui emerges as the most memorable performer in the film. Even in her love scenes, she seems almost invulnerable. Topliner Chow is unusually subdued in this outing. The action scenes are subtle in comparison to the kill-fest that capped A Better Tomorrow II.