Young and Dangerous (1996)
Andrew Lau, Hong Kong
The Young and Dangerous franchise might not pass as the greatest set of triad films from Hong Kong, but it certainly takes the top spot when it comes to cultural (and cinematic) importance. While John Woo set the tone for glamorized heroic bloodshed and made it kosher to empathize with 'criminals', his films weren't exactly relatable to an average human being. Unless you were a professional killer or worked for a large crime syndicate, these stories felt appropriately fictional. With the Young and Dangerous films, there's a sense of normalcy here - at least in the earlier films - even if you weren't part of a street gang. These were just a bunch of 'kids' (Ekin Cheng was actually 29 when the first film came out) navigating the streets of Hong Kong's triad world, facing the typical trials and tribulations you often see in this genre. But as much as Andrew Lau glamorizes a life of crime, he's not completely over the top in doing so. He doesn't steer away from making the triad life seem cool, but he also never steered too far away from the humanistic qualities of these characters. As badass as Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan might look on screen, they don't really have any special abilities. You take Chow Yun Fat in A Better Tomorrow or The Killer, and you're looking at a human with almost superpower abilities. The primary players in the Young and Dangerous franchise were all just regular people who valued the idea of brotherhood almost to a fault. In a sense, there's almost an inspirational tone to the Young and Dangerous films, even though it does promote the very illegal triad lifestyle. I could write another paragraph talking about how the film steers away from this kind of blatant promotion, but I'll defer that for another day. Ekin Cheng is far from the greatest actor in his game, but it's almost as if he was born for the role of Chan Ho Nam. He might not do too much emotionally, but that is in no ways a criticism because it fits his character so well. When all is said and done, the relatively non-violent and almost innocent lens that Andrew Lau used is what made these films relatable in a way that most triad movies just aren't. More importantly, you still get a ton of moral lessons and interesting (albeit superficial) explorations of social issues pertinent to the triad culture. If the gang came back together to make another Young and Dangerous movie, I'm sure it would be a mistake, but I'll be secretly crossing my fingers hoping that it eventually happens.