The two beloved Hong Kong-born A-listers haven’t worked together since the end of the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy 18 years ago.
The reunion will be written and directed by Felix Chong, the screenwriter for that series. It is backed by Emperor Motion Pictures and mainland Chinese partners, with a reported budget of around $30.8 million (RMB200 million).
Chong found success in mainland China in 2018 with his counterfeiting thriller “Project Gutenberg,” which he wrote and directed. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Aaron Kwok and Zhang Jingchu, it grossed $183 million in China and $4.3 million in Hong Kong, going on to win best film, best script, best director and four other prizes from 17 nominations at the 2019 Hong Kong Film Awards.
Other members of the “Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong” cast will include fellow veteran Hong Kongers Simon Yam (most recently seen in “Septet: The Story of Hong Kong” and mainland China’s jingoistic blockbuster “My People, My Country”) and Philip Keung (“Shock Wave 2”), as well as Alex Fong Chung-sun (“Overheard 3”), Cantopop starlet Charlene Choi, Chin Ka-lok and Carlos Chan.
Set in the 1980s, the film depicts cut-throat machinations between Hong Kong’s jostling business elites amidst the backdrop of the tail end of British colonial rule. It tells the story of the rise and bust of a fictional Hong Kong company called Jiali Group, following the travails of its chairman Cheng Yiyan through 15 years of investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption as murders are committed, billions in market value evaporate and millions are spent on litigation fees.
The film is reportedly inspired by the fate of the Carrian Group, a Hong Kong conglomerate that grew rapidly in the 1980s before collapsing in scandal shortly thereafter.
Tensions between Hong Kong and the mainland have soared since Beijing passed its controversial National Security Law that strictly reduces speech and ups censorship in the territory. The topic of anti-corruption investigations aren’t frowned upon and are even encouraged by the Chinese regime, however, and thus likely safe ground for storytelling, as long as the good guys prevail and the baddies are punished.
The first “Infernal Affairs” film (2002) and its 2003 sequel grossed $7 million and $3.2 million, respectively in Hong Kong, but did not screen widely in China. “Infernal Affairs 3” grossed $3.9 million in Hong Kong and $5.6 million in China in 2003. At that time, the China market far smaller than today and had far fewer cinema screens.
The last film starring Leung to screen in mainland China was the thriller “Europe Raiders,” which grossed $22.4 million in 2018. His films have earned collectively earned a total of $664 million in the country.
Lau is currently listed as the fourth most-popular actor in the country of any gender on the industry data tracker Maoyan’s real-time popularity list, and is the 25th highest ranking male actor in terms of box office generated in the market, thanks to films that have earned $1.4 billion over the course of his career. His latest, “Shock Wave 2,” grossed $196 million.