Wong Jing: sometimes you're on the right track, but
then you go and ruin it. Hong Kong's tackiest auteur
returns to a favored genre with Wise Guys Never Die,
but despite the friendly trappings and a workable premise,
things go south. Fast. Nick Cheung stars as Nick, an
accountant sentenced to prison for allegedly embezzling
a ton of dough. The joint is tough on Nick; he receives
the Tim Robbins Shawshank Redemption treatment
right away, meaning he's ostracized from other inmates,
his glasses get broken, plus he makes some new "friends"
and eventually has a tough time sitting down. These
details officially ruin any chance that this film will
be fun, but at least they should make impressionable
youngsters think twice about commmitting white collar
Back to the movie. Nick makes
bad bunkmates in the joint, but he also meets Teddy,
a shrewd grifter who has the respect of the other inmates
and offers to watch Nick's back. Fortunately, Teddy
is smart and connected; under his watch, Nick learns
plenty of useful card sharking, and no longer has to
suffer the indignity of being romanced by fellow inmates.
Unfortunately, Teddy is played by Wong Jing. That wouldn't
be so bad if Teddy were wacky comedy relief, but Teddy
is supposed to be charismatic and rather cool, kind
of like a shorter, rounder Chow Yun-Fat from those classic
Prison on Fire films. But again, Teddy is played
by Wong Jing. If you find the idea of Wong Jing playing
a cool, charismatic conman to be disturbing, then congratulations:
Nick and Teddy bond big time
in prison, such that Teddy offers Nick a job as soon
as he gets out. Teddy wants Nick to help him grift people
out of their hard-earned cash, with the first target
being Dragon (Eddie Cheung), a tough gangster who runs
an illegal gambling den. However, Nick senses a betrayal
from his supposed buddy. Teddy behaves disingenuously,
and even acts mean to his ultra-hot girlfriend Lola
(Alice Chan). Nick takes special offense at this because
he finds Lola incredibly alluring, an attraction which
develops when he spies Lola straddling Teddy in the
hot tub. She also licks Teddy's naked torso and engages
in numerous steamy (for Hong Kong, anyway) love scenes
with him. Uh...yeah. We'll get back to that later.
After getting a peek at her
generous form, Nick begins to lust after Lola big time.
He grows jealous of Teddy, and begins to get all itchy
despite having a loving girlfriend (Jolie Chan) at home.
Though he tries to remain content, he simply can't get
the image of Lola and Teddy bumping and grinding out
of his mind. It's possible the audience won't be able
to get the scenes out of their mind either, because
it's Wong Jing in them, dammit! Yeah, his character
is supposed to be charismatic and cool, but does anyone
out there really buy it? And do we have to actually
see Alice Chan groping his chubby figure as if it were
supposed to be titillating? Seeing Wong Jing go the
distance as the co-lead in Wise Guys Never Die
is a bit puzzling. Couldn't they have gotten anyone
better for the role? Were Francis Ng or Anthony Wong
really too busy? And if not, couldn't they have at least
gotten Eric Tsang?
This abundance of vitriol towards
Wong Jing's casting is probably a bit extreme. Really,
he's not that bad at what he usually does. As a writer
and director, Wong Jing can put together some funny
and entertaining films, and when he tries out dark themes,
the lengths to which he goes can sometimes be surprising
and even effective. Wise Guys Never Die is one
of Wong's darker efforts, and possesses some intriguing
ideas, among them its protagonist Nick, who reveals
layers of ugliness that ultimately challenge the audience.
Nick Cheung tackles the role with a commendable seriousness,
and Alice Chan at least fulfills the sexy portion of
her role. Plus, Wong Jing really isn't that bad as Teddy.
The character has a certain likable quality, and Wong
Jing can do likable.
However, that last statement
only applies if one forgets that Wong Jing is at the
helm of this sinking ship - and really, it's hard to
forget that he is. There's a decent noirish plot in Wise Guys Never Die, but Wong Jing's direction
is too unconvincing and unimaginative to get it to work.
Too many sequences are dragged down by boring exposition,
plus there are some scenes which seem merely confusing
and/or unnecessary. Wong doesn't develop his situations
properly; Nick's attraction to Lola is supposed to be
a big deal, but the chemistry between Nick Cheung and
Alice Chan is rather weak. Teddy is also not sufficiently
developed. If Wong Jing's acting is supposed to make
him fascinating and/or worth caring about then the filmmakers
must be drunk, or expecting that their audience will
be. The characters aren't attractive either, and ultimately
it's hard to care what happens to them. Worst of all,
the film fails to entertain on even the most basic level.
I could go on forever.
this is all about expectations. The poster for Wise
Guys Never Die features a scene of Nick Cheung playing
poker with a dog, a crocodile, and a smarmy Wong Jing
- images that make one think they're in for one of those
trademark Wong Jing laffers. No dice: the plot begs
seriousness, with murder, betrayal, and other sordid
stuff in the offing. The problem is that Wong Jing can't
seem to channel seriousness into the story, and even
his big twists and turns sometimes play like Scooby
Doo-level reveals rather than the dark surprises they
should be. Also, it's unfortunate to say it, but Wong
Jing is hard to take seriously as an actor. One just
has to look at the guy and the giggles begin. In the
end, this is just another failed attempt from a filmmaker
who apparently still struggles to be taken seriously.
And if Wise Guys Never Die wasn't supposed to
be taken seriously, then they failed too, because it's
not fun or entertaining, and is only mildly diverting
in that "oh wow, they actually made this movie"
sort of way. Unfortunately, that isn't enough. (Kozo