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The Mobfathers

Chapman To goes for political laughs in The Mobfathers.
Chinese: 選老頂
Year: 2016
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
Producer: Chapman To Man-Chat
Writer: Erica Li Man, Force Lee

Chapman To Man-Chat, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Gregory Wong Chung-Yiu, Bonnie Xian, Carlos Chan Ka-Lok, Ken Hung Cheuk-Lap, Kathy Yuen, Deep Ng Ho-Hong, Kenny Wong Tak-Bun, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Wylie Chiu, Danny Summer, Tarah Chan, Benson Ling, Mak Ling-Ling, Brian Burrell, Lam Wai, Dragon Li, Albert Cheung

The Skinny: Entertaining but flawed triad comedy-drama-satire from director Herman Yau and star-producer Chapman To. The story and character work are questionable but Yau hits with his frequent, if sometimes pandering references to local Hong Kong political issues. Not as good as Johnnie To’s Election movies, which is hardly a surprise.
by Kozo:

Herman Yau takes a stroll through Election territory with the gangland comedy-drama-satire The Mobfathers, and the result is entertaining and flawed in equal measure. Chapman To stars as ambitious Jing Hing triad Chuck, who's arrested on the very same night that his wife (Bonnie Xian) announces that she's pregnant. Since he's missing the best years of fatherhood, Chuck resolves to be on his best behavior while in prison, and hopes to make it on the straight and narrow when his sentence is over. However, that's not what happens. A violent skirmish occurs outside the prison right when Chuck is released, and after a few twists involving the gang and his family, he does a 180 and decides that he'd like to continue being a gangster and he's all-in on becoming the next Dragon Head of Jing Hing. So much for family and fatherhood changing your life, eh?

The path to becoming the next triad kingpin isn't easy. Chuck has to compete with a number of gang lieutenants, plus look out for the ever-judgmental "Uncles", the aged triads who oversee the gangs from above. Chuck's main rival is Wolf (Gregory Wong), a metrosexual triad who has wide-ranging sexual proclivities and isn't above using chicanery to get his way. However, neither is Chuck, so the stage is set for a battle between an older, tougher triad and a younger, slimier one. Who will triumph and become the next Jing Hing Dragon Head? Actually, it's irrelevant who wins, since Mobfathers is mostly about the darkly funny spectacle of a gangland election, which Herman Yau uses as a loosely-disguised stand-in for Hong Kong’s actual election issues. Topical satire has long been in Yau's wheelhouse, and he delivers with more obvious humor than in either of the bone-dry Election movies. Having Chapman To and his loud comic chops on board also helps to earn some laughs.

The supporting cast members fill their roles nicely. Anthony Wong provides veteran presence as a cancer-stricken triad uncle, and his sly delivery and smart sense of humor make him a highlight. Gregory Wong is amusing as the rival Wolf, while a contingent of EEG players show their faces to make sure nobody forgets about them. The biggest surprise is Keung Ho-Man, who plays Chuck's loyal comrade Luke. Keung usually impresses as sleazebags or losers, but here he's a reliable rock of a triad lieutenant and a dark horse candidate for Best Man Ever™. Keung even gets his own subplot having to do with his long-lost daughter, and while it doesn't really go anywhere, it adds some humanity to what's mostly a dark, cynical exercise. Keung's story notwithstanding, Mobfathers is far more successful with its satire than its drama, which touches upon family, loyalty and other well-worn subjects.

Oddly, Chapman To's character doesn’t entirely work. Chuck is entertaining as a lighter version of Big D (Tony Leung Ka-Fai in Election), but even with subplots devoted to Chuck's family and mistress (Tarah Chan), the character never feels as important as the film makes him out to be. Chuck works mostly as a guide to the triad election – which is the where the real meat resides – so when the film gets serious about its relationships and characters it just feels like lip service to expected commercial elements. The film's final twists, especially, seem like they’re trying to make Chuck out to be someone we should care about, but he doesn't really earn that. However, despite these flaws, the central election storyline is successful, and possesses a few decent surprises and some triad-style action to spice things up. The use of CGI blood is ridiculously fake and a bit of a distraction, though it does make the graphic violence easier to handle.

The Mobfathers is no patch on Johnnie To's take on the triad election process but it's likely more accessible to general audiences because it has more commercial elements, plus it doesn't attempt complex metaphor. More often than not, it actually panders. For the Hong Kong audience, the film's self-marketed claim to fame is how it skewers local politics. Besides the verbatim "one man, one vote" reference to Hong Kong's continuing struggle for universal suffrage, the script parrots famous lines from political figures in its dialogue. The references appear superficial rather than truly incisive or surprising, but for plugged-in locals and politically-interested outsiders they work as sly entertainment. Most international audiences won’t really catch all these references, but the film still entertains as a loose and offbeat gangland drama-comedy with solid themes and some Category III content. While not a classic, The Mobfathers proves to be digestible local fare that can appropriately be labeled "Hong Kong Cinema". In 2016, we should be happy with any. (Kozo, 10/2016)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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