The Last Tycoon 大上海 (2012) - Hong Kong / China

The Last Tycoon 大上海 (2012) – Hong Kong / China

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 11th January 2013
Released in cinemas across Asia in 26th December 2012

Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Huang Xiaoming, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Yuan Li, Yuan Quan, Monica Mok, Feng Wenjuan, Gao Hu, Xin Baiqing
Director: Wong Jing
Produced by: Andrew Lau

HK Box-office Takings: HK$5,787,307

Available on DVD and Blu Ray on March 7th 2013.

Also Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013

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If “The Last Tycoon” proved one thing is that Wong Jing still can produce a decent picture, if he can be bothered. Sure, the latest Chow Yun Fat/ Francis Ng / Sammo Hung starring flick isn’t exactly cinematic gold, but it is by far the best Wong Jing’s best directing effort for almost a decade (2003’s “Colour of Truth”). “The Last Tycoon” produced by Andrew Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) is filled with lavish production sets, plenty of big budget explosions and gun fights and some adequate acting display. This is certainly not magic, but in terms of anything from Wong Jing, this is probably as good as it will ever get.

For once, we get a serious Wong Jing without any of his usual annoying antics and cheap commercial. This can be attributed to the long overdue reunion between Wong and Chow Yun Fat as the pairing last made the now cult classic “God of Gamblers”. While “The Last Tycoon” will never be anything as good as the aforementioned film, it possess enough good points to justify at least a viewing. What I particularly enjoyed about this film, is the manner Wong goes about his business and even when Wong is alluding to other clearly better film-makers (John Woo, Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To and Wilson Yip), it feels more like a homage than a cheap shot for once. That’s not to say the film is entirely a fun ride, as there are areas that remains constantly hampered by a dragging script that lack a key focus for the audience to dwell on. At the end, the film relies heavily on its main star being the extremely charismatic Chow Yun Fat to carry the film with his smirk and his much missed trademark gun fights. This is especially evident, when the film falls flat in the final quarter as Francis Ng uses all his acting depth to get his paper thin character through by being outright menacing, but like the film remains rather empty.

Perhaps the film is not really about how one rises to power, as “The Last Tycoon” seems to be more concerned with its romantic sub-plot and regretting undertones. That’s not necessary a bad thing, but it feels far too uneven for the audience to feel the everlasting impact. For the first third of the film, we see rising Mainland star Huang Xiao Ming playing the younger Da Qi (Chow Yun Fat), where he gets into a fight with some small time triads and rises through the ranks after a chance encounter with his master Hung (played by Sammo Hung). This portion of the film feels extremely like Wilson Yip’s “Ip Man 2” and if you must be pedantic, Sammo Hung seems not only to be playing the same character, but also wears the same black dress. Moving on the middle portion, we get a scene directly from any John Woo movie and more prominently the famed gun fights and unlimited ammos during the church scene in “The Killer”. To see Chow Yun Fat with a gun is almost like going through a moment in the memory lane where almost all die-hard Hong Kong cinemas will agree in delight. In the final quarter, Mr. Wong even manages to release a preview of Wong Kar Wai’s “The Grandmaster” (releasing in Hong Kong a couple of weeks later) with the black umbrellas, slow motions and raining backdrop. In actually fact, it is also a scene from Johnnie To’s “Sparrow”. Just when you think that the allusion and homage is over, Wong Jing comes up with an absolute gem of a finale, a star crossed lovers, unrequited love, everlasting regrets and quite frankly “In the Mood for Love” car scene. Still, despite the obvious carbon imaging, Wong Jing manages to remain serious and the undertones is clearly a homage rather than a cheap imitation of his usual sorts. That alone is worthy of a complimentary gesture.

In terms of acting, Chow Yun Fat “The Assassins” is most probably the coolest actor on earth and with two guns on his hands, he is simply a match made in heaven. I cannot recall the last time, he hold a gun in a Hong Kong film (strictly this is a Mainland co-production), but with his trademark two handed gun fights, Chow is truly at home. When Huang Xiao Ming (who plays the younger version of Chow) tries to apt his idol, the best he can do is reminding the audience exactly how much cooler the older Chow really is. Sammo Hung is Sammo Hung and that’s not an understatement, but the story fails to explore more into his character and the underlying relationship and brotherhood between Chow and Hung. Hung has physical presence is always a welcome on the big screen, even if his role is insanely “Ip Man”-like. As for the young Huang Xiao Ming, he spends far too many scenes trying to mimic Chow that he lost his own style and character. Nonetheless, Huang remains a likeable character and there is an air of coolness in the way he goes about the task on hand. As usual, Francis Ng steals the show whenever he appears on screen, however, despite his menacing outlook and obvious over the top acting, Ng is unable to extend or extract something special from his paper thin role. Monica Mok (who was wonderful in “Ocean Flame”) does well and even manages to leave the audience wanting in the final few sequences.

All in all, “The Last Tycoon” is a decent attempt at recreating a Shanghai triad epic and while the film lacks originality, it is made up by a good cast of actors, some interesting gun fights and some throw-in Wong Jing’s homage to other directors. It is most certainly Wong Jing’s best effort in years and for that alone, we should really celebrate. In terms of entertainment value, you can certainly do a lot worst than “The Last Tycoon”, just don’t expect too much and a decent time can still be had. Then again, when a film allows Chow Yun Fat to hold more than two guns on his hand, it is alone worth the price of admission. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7.5/10