of the appeal of watching movies about rebellious
teenagers is that despite whatever self-destructive
behavior the characters are engaged in, there's usually
a certain measure of vicarious delight in watching
them do and say the things you've always wanted to,
but were prevented from doing by an overwhelming sense
of maturity or restraint. For a movie of this kind
to work, the filmmakers have to provide strong, edgy
characters that we may not particularly agree with,
but can't take our eyes off of when they appear onscreen.
In only his second film as a director, Clarence Fok
tried to tap into the rebellious spirit of the local
youth culture with his 1983 film On the Wrong Track.
But in the end, this Hong Kong variation on Rebel
Without a Cause is far less compelling than its
Fok cast Andy Lau in
the lead role of Paul Chen, a young man who has the
terrible misfortune of being a member of probably
the worst gang of teenage delinquents in Hong Kong
cinema history. Led by his baby brother Ah De (Yen
Chiu-Hua), these boys go around harassing people while
wearing tucked-in polo shirts and short shorts. "Cool"
isn't exactly the word that comes to mind when Ah
De's gang flexes its puny muscles. That doesn't mean
that they're not destructive; the delinquents start
off the film with a proverbial bang by blowing up
a man's carand for no apparent reason. These
young toughs spend the first half of the movie robbing
stores, beating people with baseball bats, and getting
into regularly scheduled brawls with a gang of equally
ridiculous-looking goons. Sadly, when they get together
for a rumble, it looks less like a serious gang fight
and more like rejects from Michael Jackson's "Beat
It" video engaging in a dance-off.
The plotor that
which passes for onetends to hinge on the characters'
home life. Both Paul and Ah De are sons of a strict
police officer (Yueh Hua), who's raising the boys
alone after their mother left for Taiwan. Both teenagers
bring almost daily embarrassment to their father,
whose hopes for promotion are always threatened by
their criminal behavior. Matters at home aren't helped
much by Officer Chen's decision to get married to
a younger woman (Chien Hui-Yi of Hong Kong Playboys).
Despite her obvious affection and patience with the
boys, Paul and Ah De resent her presence, a fact that
drives them into further teenage angst and idiocy.
The characters are in-and-out
of trouble throughout most of the first and second
act of the film, eventually causing the elder Chen
to consider shipping the boys off to Taiwan. This
further angers Paul and Ah De due to the fact that
Taiwan demands compulsory military service from its
youth. Although Ah De is by far the worst of the two,
Officer Chen shuns Paul in favor of his younger son,
a move that is, by and large, puzzling. For the most
part, Paul just seems to go along with his younger
brother's criminal tendencies, voicing his dissenting
opinion a few moments before inevitably being convinced
by his brother to go along with his dunderheaded plans.
Although Paul seems to get the blame from his dad,
Ah De is clearly the "mastermind" of their
But things start to
look up for Paul when he meets Shi (Prudence Liu),
a cute-as-a-button Vietnamese refugee who harbors
a secret: she's got a kid. Their interactions have
scarcely started, but upon learning this secret, Paul
suddenly takes their relationship into overdrive,
a move that feels rushed on the part of the filmmakers.
The sequences of Paul interacting with Shi and her
baby are fine and actually a welcome change of pace,
but nothing in the narrative prepares the viewer for
such a dramatic shift in Paul's attitude toward Shi.
Of course, any sort
of premarital bliss can't last, as Paul is pulled
back into his brother's web of stupidity, a decision
that has tragic effects for the Chen family. Midway
through the film, Paul finally becomes an out-and-out
rebel, eventually getting locked into a strange endgame
with his nemesis King Kong (Lau Kwok-Shing), a bald,
mustachioed cop who has long been a thorn in the boys'
side. After experiencing a series of heartbreaks,
Paul decides the best way to resolve his issues with
King Kong is to invite the guy to a deserted shopping
center and try to run him down with his car. Sounds
like logical finale, right? Yeah, I didn't think so
Although the film is
undermined by poor plotting, ridiculous melodrama,
and paper-thin characterization, Clarence Fok does
display a certain measure of visual panache in On
the Wrong Track. The most notable example would
have to be the expertly shot demolition derby races
that occur from time to time; the sequences have just
enough gonzo action in them to make a viewer stand
up and take notice. Too bad it's not enough. Overall, On the Wrong Track is visually engaging, but
story-wise, it definitely lacks polish.
At only twenty one years
of age, Andy Lau performs well in what was only his
third film role. He doesn't show much range, but one
gets the sense that Lau is a real diamond in the rough,
surrounded in the film by a host of amateurs (Yueh
Hua exempted). Even worse, those "amateurs"
are forced to inhabit annoying, irredeemable characters.
Ah De and his cohorts are so horribly unappealing
and annoying that it's hard to get any charge out
of their so-called rebellious behavior. It doesn't
help matters that they look like they would be more
comfortable on the school's chess team than hanging
with Chan Ho-Nam's crew.
For an example of a better
film with a similar plot, one should check out As
Tears Go By. In that film, Andy Lau's character
must suffer the consequences due to his loyalty to
his younger, hotheaded triad brothera setup
not unlike the one in On the Wrong Track. But
what sets As Tears Go By apart from On the
Wrong Track is that the rebellious younger brother
(played by Jacky Cheung) was actually a complex character
with credible motivation. Here, Ah De is a spoiled,
whiny brat whose one dimensional behavior only serves
to annoy the viewer. The movie does pick up a bit
once the narrative focuses solely on Andy Lau's character,
but it's far too late. Ironically, On the Wrong
Track lives up to its title. (Calvin McMillin 2005)