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Shawn Yue and Elanne Kong in Rebellion.


Year: 2009  
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To  
Producer: Ng Kin-Hung  
  Writer: Herman Yau Lai-To
  Cast: Shawn Yue, Elanne Kong Yeuk-Lam, Ada Choi Siu-Fun, Chapman To Man-Chat, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Paul Wong Koon-Chung, Jun Kung, Anson Leung Chun-Yat, Ella Koon Yun-Na, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Tommy Yuen Man-On, Parkman Wong Pak-Man, Renee Dai Mung-Mung, Fung Hak-On, Calvin Poon Yuen-Leung, Ron Heung
  The Skinny: Herman Yau's long-delayed Rebellion doesn't live up to the director's recent streak of solid films, and the ending is a needless, deflating letdown. Still, there's some good stuff here, including some smart satire on triad politics and an oddball cast. Worth a look despite the numerous flaws.
by Kozo:

While not a complete misfire, Rebellion is certainly less than one might expect from Herman Yau. Shawn "I used to make a film every month" Yue stars as Po, the humorless bodyguard for triad boss Jimmy (Calvin Poon). On his birthday, Po takes a night off, and that same evening Jimmy gets shot up outside a gang hangout. With Jimmy's life hanging by a thread and his wife Cheung Wah (Ada Choi, in a ballyhooed screen appearance) on her way back from Taiwan, leadership falls to Po, and the rest of the gang isn't too happy. Jimmy's number two man Blackie (Chapman To) is especially incensed, and immediately begins undermining Po's authority. Po cares nothing for power, and only wants to find out who ordered the hit on Jimmy - and all the obvious suspects are their own allies. Can he find the killer before the gang engages in an all-out civil war?

Rebellion plays out over the course of a single evening, with Po zipping all over Kowloon to chase down Jimmy's assailant while running into interference from the gang. Accompanying Po is restaurant employee Ling (Elanne Kong), who tags along because she fancies Po and his po-faced sex appeal. Ling also provides the film's opening narration, which introduces the numerous players in the gang and their ready-to-burst alliance. Unfortunately, neither the expository script nor Kong's narration makes for a particularly engaging start. Making matters worse are the interludes between Po and Ling, which stop the film in its tracks - especially when the scene is accompanied by a schmaltzy Cantopop ballad performed by Kong. Thanks to the forced insertion of Kong's manufactured love interest (likely done to satisfy her backers at Universe Entertainment) Rebellion stalls quickly out of the gate.

However, things get better when the film focuses on the belligerent, back-stabbing mid-level bosses, all looking for more power in wake of the attack on Jimmy. Played by a combination of music industry veterans and lesser-known actors (Jun Kung, Conroy Chan, Paul Wong, Anson Leung), the group provides Rebellion with its most interesting and funny moments. The gang leaders' two-faced and frequently profane exchanges reveal Yau's affection for satire, with gang politics sometimes reduced to deliberate miscommunication or sarcastic haggling. Yau portrays the triad life with an amusing sense of irony, referencing its dangers while also poking fun at its conventions and players - and he does it in both overt and offhand, subtle ways. Genre fans should be happy too; amidst the irony, there's some standard triad action consisting of guys running through the streets with choppers, plus one well executed car chase. Rebellion may start with some rough edges, but when the second and third act roll around, it seems to be on solid ground.

Unfortunately, the film throws an extra curve at the end that's needless and deflating. After delivering some measure of intelligence during the final two acts, Herman Yau (also credited as the film's writer) submarines everything with a last second reveal and multiple flashbacks that seem designed to appease a censorship board somewhere. The letdown is especially unfortunate since it wastes one of Hong Kong Cinema's most interesting casts around. The main stars are no great shakes; Shawn Yue is solid but unremarkable in the lead, Elanne Kong is probably in the wrong film, and Ada Choi's publicized appearance (the actress has been absent from movies since 2004) is barely above the level of her copious TV work. However, the supporting performances are very fun; Chapman To is an expert at blustery triad roles, and Jun Kung, Paul Wong, and a late appearing Ella Koon all deserve special notice.

The actors and their colorful shenanigans raise Rebellion to a higher level, though the obvious and even annoying commercial concessions drop the film down several notches. The silver lining to all of this: Rebellion was shot a while ago, with rough cuts making the rounds in late 2008. That means that since Rebellion's completion, Yau has delivered True Women For Sale, The First 7th Night, Turning Point and Split Second Murders - four films that comprise one of the most solid streaks from any Hong Kong filmmaker around. Basically, Yau has already improved since Rebellion, so we can hopefully sweep whatever concern we have about Yau quietly under a rug. Anyway, the film still suffices as an entertaining and occasionally smart triad potboiler, managing some surprise and enjoyment despite its flaws. All things considered, Rebellion can't help but disappoint, but there's still stuff to like. In Herman Yau's films, there usually is. (Kozo 2009)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image credits: Universe Entertainment Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen