Chasing the Dragon (2017)

Posted in Reviews by - October 15, 2017
Chasing the Dragon (2017)

Glamourised rags-to-riches story of infamous Hong Kong drug baron Ng Sek-ho, better known as Limpy Ho due to his pronounced limp and use of a walking stick. Hong Kong isn’t short on well-known gangsters, but Ho is probably the closest thing the territory has to a Pablo Escobar figure; a known criminal who profited from the burgeoning economy in British-ruled Hong Kong during the 1960s and 70s, who bribed an already corrupted police force, dined with dignitaries and met the Queen. His nefarious activities resulted in a 30-year jail term before dying an old man in 1991. Since then, his story has been mythologised by Poon Man-kit in his film, To Be Number One. Here, the prolific Wong Jing (known mostly for comedies) presents a more sympathetic, superficial account of Ho’s life, positioned as a Cantonese Goodfellas and a prime vehicle for Donnie Yen to flex his acting chops. He’s very good in this – his first non-martial arts role – and more than handles his own alongside acting royalty like Andy Lau. Ho (minus the limp) arrives in 1960s Hong Kong as a poor illegal immigrant from Dahao City who finds money, respect and power in gang life, becoming a notorious force in Kowloon’s Walled City where crime is rife and the police daren’t visit. Wong Jing displays a nostalgic affection for the murky, neon nightlife in the Walled City, where a version of Donny Hathaway’s The Ghetto plays on repeat, the planes from the old airport fly low overhead, and there’s a strong sense of community; nevermind the abject poverty, degradation and unbridled crime. Ho is shown to be loyal to his lifelong friends, even caring; in one scene, he stops an academic from buying opium to protect him from addiction. It’s at this point you realise this isn’t quite a Scarface story, although Donnie does get to go on a shotgun rampage towards the end, but his motivations are not drug-induced. The film instead focuses predominantly on Ho’s friendship with Lee Rock (Andy Lau), a fellow Dahao City native and rookie cop who at first has idealistic dreams of overturning the poisonous trail of corruption at the heart of the British-led police force, before abandoning his vision for a much more selfish course. He jumps into business with Ho and they both share the bounty, becoming more powerful as a result. Even as the closest people to Ho become embroiled and damaged in the life of crime he has helped to create, he stubbornly holds personal grudges against rival gangsters, instead of questioning his own role in the wider problem. Its message is ultimately a mixed one. Even when the ICAC turn up, who lead an investigation into police corruption, they somehow come across looking like the bad guys. It’s a stylish film, but the story is conflicted.

AKA: Chasing Dragons; King of Drug Dealers.

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