Hong Kong director Andrew Lau’s highly successful franchise about triad youth, “Young and Dangerous,” reached an exhilarating peak with last year’s terrific third entry. But while fans of that pic’s muscular action and high-kicking violence may find this comparatively sedate follow-up a little tame, No. 4 in the series offers a more contemplative, equally compelling drama about underhanded power plays and internecine rivalry that should find many takers on the fest circuit.
Aiming to fill the gap left at the helm of the Hung Hing triad by godfather Chiang’s murder in “Y&D3,” the organization’s branch chiefs travel to Thailand to lure back his brother (Alex Man) to assume leadership. No sooner does he take charge than a branch boss is killed, leaving a new opening. Top candidates for promotion are the murder victim’s aggressive but none-too-bright henchman, known as Barbarian, and plucky upstart Chicken (Jordan Chan), the sidekick of series hero and fellow branch leader Ho-nam (Cheng Yee-kin). Chiang divides the area in two, giving the contenders one side each to run during a trial period prior to voting in a new leader.
Most of the drama focuses on Barbarian’s unscrupulous ploys to curry local favor and secure the branch leadership, living up to his name, while Chicken’s more upright moves look destined for failure. Latter is aided by his spunky g.f. (Karen Mok) and by Ho-nam, despite his initial conviction that Chicken isn’t up to the responsibility. The well-handled climactic election scene becomes a showdown between rival branch leaders, in which Barbarian’s divided loyalties and those of another key Hung Hing player are dramatically exposed.
While Roy Cheung made an enjoyably maniacal villain in “Y&D3,” this new entry lacks a truly colorful antagonist for gangster good guys Ho-nam and Chicken. But the duo remain dynamic leads, with Cheng’s sleek, pretty-boy gangster-with-a-soul still mourning his brutally murdered lover but perhaps on the road to romantic recovery via a new schoolteacher flame.
As Chicken and his g.f., Chan and Mok also generate plenty of sparks in their scenes together. Standout among the new additions to the cast is Sandra Ng, as sharp-dressing, sharp-tongued lesbian branch leader Sister 13, whose appearances are all too brief.
In style as well as tone, “Y&D4” is more composed than its predecessor, with director/d.p. Lau trading in the earlier pics’ wild, hand-held camerawork for a less agile look that makes an atmospheric canvas of neon-lit Hong Kong. Soundtrack is fine, with a lively mix of gangsta tunes and Cantopop. Pic took HK$16 million on local release in the spring — the lowest haul of the series.