Lucky Montrealers can see a double bill of classic Hong Kong gangster films for a mere $10 tonight, Saturday, April 30, 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. That’s two for the price of one. (And these are indeed 35 mm films, not DVD projections.)
Too Many Ways To Be No. 1, from 1997, and The Longest Nite, from 1998, were shown in Montreal in the early days of the Fantasia International Film Festival, so tonight’s screenings will have an added nostalgia value for people who saw the films back then.
The very black comedy Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 is set in the months before Britain returned Hong Kong to China. Tense times! Petty criminal Kau, 32, hasn’t got very far in life and he’s contemplating his future. He’s wondering – should he accept a job taking stolen cars to the Chinese mainland, or not?
The film shows what would happen if he did; then shows a scenario in Taiwan that could only happen if he refused the mainland job. These crooks are not the cool, suave, well-dressed types one sees in many gangsters films – they’re loud, clumsy and clueless. Camera work is unusual, with one scene shot upside down and another that takes place in total darkness apart from the flashes coming from guns.
Rob Larsen at drunkenfist.com says: “Far-removed from the slick, attractive style that is the stereotype of a Triad picture, Too Many Ways feels like it was shot by the love child of Samuel Beckett and Ringo Lam with a script provided by David Lynch.”
Shelly Kraicer says: “A gangster film, brilliantly written and photographed. . . it’s provocative and amusing at the same time (and manages to make the ‘experimentation’ of Pulp Fiction look like child’s play). Amazing camera work (hyper-actively circling, inverted and distorted, with a daringly warped colour scheme). . . The tone flips constantly: expect something hilariously violent/satirical/absurdist. . . I can’t recommend it highly enough: take a chance and see it, if you want something both entertaining and a bit challenging.”
Kau is played by Lau Ching Wan, other actors include Francis Ng, Cheung Tat Ming, Carman Lee, Elvis Tsui and Matt Chow.
Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 is from Johnnie To’s Milky Way Image Company and directed by Wai Ka-fai. It’s 90 minutes long, with Cantonese and Mandarin dialogue and English subtitles.
I might also point out that Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 seems to be out of print, so this is a rare chance to see it. In fact, people are asking for $2,143. to $3,062 for a DVD via amazon.ca. Ha! As if!
Lau Ching Wan is also in The Longest Nite, along with Tony Leung Chiu Wai. The film is set in Macao; Tony Leung plays a very crooked, very violent policeman who works for gangsters and Lau plays a burly, mysterious stranger whose shaved head makes him look extra scary. Unlike Too Many Ways To Be No. 1, there’s nothing funny about The Longest Nite.
James Mudge of Beyond Hollywood says: “This is a bleak, nihilistic and brutal thriller which pulls no punches and whose complex plot shows an intelligence that is both ruthless and vicious. . . With its myriad twists and turns, the plot of “The Longest Nite” rivals “The Usual Suspects” in terms of intricacy. . .two rival gangs are attempting to negotiate a truce and join forces before the impending return of another, legendary gang boss. . . one of the gang leaders, Lung, learns that a contract has been taken out on his life, supposedly by Brother K, the other boss. Brother K denies this, and sends Sam (Tony Leung), a dirty cop who works for him, to investigate. . . it appears that there may be even more to the assassination plot than the simple killing of Lung.”
“The plot twists are quite unpredictable, and the tension gradually builds as the viewer is given often misleading hints as to where the story is going, rather than being force fed details via needless exposition. . . “The Longest Nite” is a classic Hong Kong thriller. . .A cunning film that is as cerebral as it is exciting and violent, this is a film all fans of Asian cinema should see.”
The Longest Nite is directed by Patrick Yau and Johnnie To, it’s 81 minutes long, in Cantonese with English subtitles.
Too Many Ways To Be No. 1 and The Longest Nite, 7 p.m., Saturday, April 30, 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E., Montreal, Quebec H2X 1K1, across from the Berri-UQAM metro. Visit the Facebook page for more info.