Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone (2000)
Dante Lam, Hong Kong
Triad movies have been a trademark of Hong Kong cinema for as long as I can remember. Similar to the Italian mobster stories of Hollywood, the 'criminal with a conscience' approach to characterization often glamorizes a life of crime, but it's also a window into the ethics and challenges of attempting to be good when everything around you is bad. On a much more superficial level, seeing triad members walk and the streets of Hong Kong is just one of the coolest things ever. And when it comes to 'classics' in this genre, the Young and Dangerous series (more so the earlier ones), A Better Tomorrow or the Election movies usually come to mind. And while I wouldn't call Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone a totally underrated (it did receive a decent amount of nominations on the Hong Kong awards circuit), I do think it's a bit of a forgotten child. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag. Even though the protagonist is supposed to be a one of the top dogs in the underworld, the comedic approach undermines the badassery we normally associate with such a character. As an example, think Tony Leung (Ka Fai) in Election - same kind of character, but completely different approach. But that's what makes this movie so special in the realm of Hong Kong triad movies. Others have mixed comedy into triad movies, but I don't think any have done so while still maintaining the more serious ideologies affixed to the genre itself. Despite having its campy moments and a fair share of ridiculousness, Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone still manages to tell a compelling story about the triad life and explore all the typical elements of comradery, betrayal and honour. It might not be the most well-made triad film out there, but it's a true product of Hong Kong cinema that feels right from beginning to end. This is not a movie that could be replicated or re-made in another region of the world, but from a story and stylistic perspective. This is a movie that lives and breathes the quirks of a Hong Kong film, and you have any interest in Hong Kong cinema, please check it out.