Derek Yee, Hong Kong
If for nothing else other than to see Andy Lau sporting some pretty badass white hair, Protégé is definitely worth a watch. I'll try to be honest upfront by stating that I am a huge Andy Lau fan (like, HUGE). But even without my inherent biases in this department, Lau gives one of his strongest performances ever in a role that falls more towards the antagonist spectrum of characterization, which is certainly a rare thing for him. It wouldn't be fair to call him a villain per se - and the moral gangster concept is heavily at play here - but it's definitely the closest thing we'll get to seeing Andy Lau play a bad guy. Daniel Wu also gives a pretty intense counter performance, and fits right into the bleak world depicted in the film. Louis Koo goes for the overacting card here, and I wouldn't be honest if I said he played that card well. It's a pretty annoying performance from beginning to end. Sorry Mr. Koo - A-plus for effort! As for the movie itself? For me, Protégé is equal parts informative and entertaining. While offering an extensive look at the opium market from the perspectives of both the criminals and law enforcers, central to its story are the characters that get tangled in this mess of an industry. The moral decisions and story arcs aren't completely original, but in the hands of Derek Yee, everything is executed with a nice touch of perfection. It's not as accomplished a film as One Nite in Mongkok, but the commercial nature of this film shouldn't be ignored either. And with that in mind, I'd count Protégé as a solid success for Hong Kong cinema in a time (that continues to this day) where solid commercial filmmaking isn't necessarily a default for the industry.