×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Last Tycoon

Helmed with musty solemnity by Wong Jing, this expensively furnished production unfolds scene after scene of slow-burning chamber drama, punctuated by potent but never jaw-dropping action.

With:
With: Chow Yun-fat, Huang Xiaoming, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Yolanda Yuan, Monica Mok, Joyce Feng, Kinny Tong, Yuan Li, Xin Boqing, Hugh Gao, Yasuaki Kurata, Zheng Zitong, Miracle Qi, Han Zhi. (Mandarin, Japanese dialogue)

A nostalgic rags-to-riches yarn about the mightiest crime lord in 1930s Shanghai, “The Last Tycoon” is nonetheless redolent of ‘hood heroics in ’90s Hong Kong cinema. Helmed with musty solemnity by Wong Jing, this expensively furnished production unfolds scene after scene of slow-burning chamber drama, punctuated by potent but never jaw-dropping action. The unhurried approach affords lead actor Chow Yun-fat ample room to deliver a flavorsome perf alongside his ace co-stars, but may hinder the pic from going gangbusters locally. Asian-friendly ancillary is a safe bet.

The screenplay reps a condensed rehash of “Lord of East China Sea” (1993-94), Poon Man-kit’s two-part, semi-fictionalized account of how drug lord Du Yuesheng rose to become a statesman and staunch Kuomintang patron. Despite the film’s streamlined tech package, to which producer-lenser Andrew Lau (“The Guillotines”) no doubt contributed, virtually everything in the story has been said and done before. The result is neither gritty nor hedonistic enough to evoke turn-of-the-century Shanghai as an “adventurer’s paradise,” while the glowing presentation of the central character as an unswerving patriot strips him of any moral complexity.

In 1913, Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiaoming), a fruit seller from Zhejiang province, gets in trouble and flees to Shanghai with the help of KMT spy Mao Zai (Francis Ng). Amid the upheaval, Cheng loses touch with childhood sweetheart Ye Zhiqiu (Joyce Feng), who’s gone to Beijing to study Chinese opera. Cheng plunges himself into the world of gangland streetfighting, and hits the big time after becoming protege of Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung), chief of police and the most corrupt thug in the freewheeling French Concession.

By 1937, Cheng (now played by Chow) not only rules Shanghai’s largest gang but has attained respectability through banking ventures with cohorts Hong and warlord Lu (Han Zhi). With a full-blown war between China and Japan looming, however, various parties vie to exploit his wealth and influence, forcing him to gamble for the city’s survival. To complicate matters, Ye (Yolanda Yuan), now a glamorous diva, resurfaces with her husband (Xin Boqing), whose communist affiliations put her in a precarious situation.

The measured tempo of Azrael Chung’s editing keeps the time-shifting narrative seguing smoothly between Cheng’s youth and middle-age years. Huang’s perf as the naive country boy in the opening act is off-puttingly half-hearted, but he throws himself into the Shanghai-set scenes with do-or-die aplomb. Beset by conflicts of interest and mounting peril, the older Cheng is, by contrast, more frazzled than fearsome.

The action (designed by Lee Tat-chiu) comes in quick but regular spurts, and assumes a grander scale in the film’s explosion-heavy second half. However, the earlier scenes of intimate human combat hold greater dramatic interest, such as a turf war in which cleavers and meathooks are put to vicious use, and a church-set shootout that pays homage to John Woo.

In essence, Wong goes against the grain of mainland commercial cinema’s emphasis on spectacle and pageantry, instead showing a preference for ensemble drama. This is apparent in scenes of Cheng outmaneuvering the crafty politesse of warlords, KMT and Japanese commander Nishino (action veteran Yasuaki Kurata), using negotiation rather than force.

After successive turns as hawkish despots or saintly philosophers, Chow makes an agreeable, even refreshing romantic lead. Still sexy in his 50s (but too old for the role), the actor expertly calibrates guilt and desire in an otherwise trite love triangle involving Cheng, his stoical wife (Monica Mok) and his self-centered old flame. Supporting thesps Hung and Ng also have strong screen presence, despite their superficial and inconsistent characterizations.

Craft contributions, including the steady camerawork and authentic-looking sets, are dependable but short on flair. The most splendid visual element comes courtesy of Jessie Tai and Ivy Chan’s exquisitely tailored and embroidered qibaos and Chow’s distinctive wardrobe, referencing his iconic gangster roles.

The Last Tycoon

China-Hong Kong

Production: A Tianjin Bona Cultural Media Co. (in China)/Distribution Workshop (in Hong Kong) release of a Bona Film Group Co., Bona Entertainment Co. presentation of a Mega-Vision Pictures production. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong.) Produced by Andrew Lau. Executive producers, Yu Dong, Jeffrey Chan. Co-producer, Connie Wong. Directed by Wong Jing. Screenplay, Wong, Manfred Wong, Lui Koon-nam.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, widescreen, HD), Andrew Lau, Jason Kwan; editor, Azrael Chung; music, Chan Kwong-wing, Yu Peng; production designer, Yee Chung Man; art director, Eric Lam; costume designers, Jessie Tai, Ivy Chan; sound (Dolby Atmos /Dolby 7.1/ Dolby Digital), Kinson Tsang; re-recording mixer, Kinson Tsang; special effects supervisor, To Kwok-keung; special effects, Glorious Entertainment Prod.; visual effects supervisor, Vincent Wong, Eman Tse; visual effects, Vfx Nova Digital Prod. Co.; action choreographer, Lee Tat-chiu; line producer, Manfred Wong; associate producers, Angela Wong, Zhang Hao; assistant director, Ho Yiu-leung; casting, Ye Lifeng. Reviewed at Grand Cinema, Kowloon, Dec. 23, 2012. Running time: 118 MIN.

With: With: Chow Yun-fat, Huang Xiaoming, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Yolanda Yuan, Monica Mok, Joyce Feng, Kinny Tong, Yuan Li, Xin Boqing, Hugh Gao, Yasuaki Kurata, Zheng Zitong, Miracle Qi, Han Zhi. (Mandarin, Japanese dialogue)

More Film

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan arrives at the

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Warner Bros.' 'Methuselah' Movie

    Michael B. Jordan will produce and star in a “Methuselah” movie for Warner Bros., based on the Biblical story of a man who lived to be 969 years old. Jordan will produce through his Outlier Society production company along with Heyday’s David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford. More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, [...]

  • Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping

    Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping Italy's Top Film Awards

    Piera Detassis recently became the first woman to head the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars. Since then she’s been busy overhauling the inner workings of the prizes that will be awarded on Wednesday. Detassis, also the editor of Italian film publication Ciak, spoke exclusively to Variety about the challenges she’s faced [...]

  • Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards

    Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards Race

    With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low. Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with [...]

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

  • Michael Lynne

    Former New Line Co-Chairman Michael Lynne Dies at 77

    Michael Lynne, the former co-chairman of New Line Cinema who played a key role in shepherding “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has died at his New York home. He was 77. Lynne’s death was confirmed Monday by longtime business partner Robert Shaye, who told Variety that Lynne’s family had informed him of Lynne’s passing [...]

  • Marisa Liston

    Sony Veteran Marisa Liston to Lead Lionsgate Movie Publicity

    Lionsgate has named Sony Pictures veteran executive Marisa Liston to lead all feature film and motion picture group publicity and communications strategy. Liston, who departed Sony in late 2018 after 17 years, has been assigned the newly created title of head of global earned media and communications. She will oversee domestic and international feature film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content