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Lee Rock
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Chinese: 五億探長雷洛傳(雷老虎)
Andy Lau and Kwan Hoi-San
Year: 1991
Director: Lawrence Lau Kwok-Cheung
Producer: Wong Jing, Jimmy Heung Wah-Sing
Writer: Chan Man-Keung
Action: Corey Yuen Kwai, Paul Wong Kwan
Cast: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Cheung Man, Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, Ng Man-Tat, Paul Chun Pui, Kwan Hoi-San, Chan Wai-Man, Tam Sin-Hung, James Tien Chun, Lung Fong, Victor Hon Kwan, Lee Siu-Kei, Wong Yat-Fei, Eddy Ko Hung (cameo)
The Skinny: Andy Lau headlines this star-studded chronicle of one young officer's rise to power within the Hong Kong police force. Conventional theories about right and wrong are thrown into question, and thanks to a strong cast and winning performances, the film makes for substantial, if sometimes unspectacular, food for thought.
  Review by

How do you remain honest in a fundamentally dishonest system? That's the question raised in Lawrence Lau's Lee Rock, a critically acclaimed 1991 docudrama that details the meteoric rise of its title character from humble beat cop to mega-powerful chief of police. In an HKFA-nominated performance, Andy Lau stars as Lee Rock, a barely literate street urchin who snags a job as a policeman for one simple reason: to put food on the table. At the academy, he learns there's more to being a police officer than he first realized. In a private talk with Lee's graduating class, a respected instructor (Eddy Ko in a cameo) gives his students a final piece of advice: the point of the game isn't to protect and serve, but to move your way up the chain of command. Sadly, this feat requires a lot of shady behavior, including both the giving and receiving of bribes. Not to participate in such actions, Ko's character tells them, is to condemn yourself to a pauper's grave.

At least initially, Lee Rock sticks to his ideals and declines every kickback that comes his way. And while his refusal to take bribes earns him the contempt of his fellow officers, it also garners him the respect and loyalty of Lardo (Ng Man-Tat), a street hawker who soon becomes Lee's trusted confidante. We also meet Rose (Chingmy Yau), the pinnacle of wide-eyed, pigtailed innocence, who loves Lee deeply, but has to keep it a secret from her authoritarian father (Wong Yat-Fei). When her dad learns of the relationship with Lee, he's less than thrilled with the fact that Rose's boyfriend is a policeman. While Rose's father despises cops for their corruption, he actually considers Lee to be even worse since all the honesty in the world won't put a roof over his daughter's head. Rose's father forbids a marriage, and soon enough, Rose is sent packing to a faraway place. A heartbroken Lee uses his police connections to search for her, but alas, has no luck in finding his lost love.

Eventually, the kindly—and only marginally corrupt—Sgt. Chan (Kwan Hoi-San) takes Lee under his protective wing, telling his young pupil, "All great men started small." Taking Chan's advice to heart, Lee vows to rise up the ranks of the department to become chief of police. The only obstacle in his way is Sgt. Ngan Tung (Paul Chun Pui), a morally bankrupt politico who will stop at nothing to destroy Lee's career.

Just as Lee's job prospects begin to improve, things heat up in the romance department when he meets a knockout by the name of Grace (played with an alluring brashness by a poodle-skirted Cheung Man). The spoiled daughter of a big-time gangster, Grace provides a romantic entanglement for Lee that is virtually the polar opposite of his situation with Rose. Even so, the issue of money arises with Grace's father as well, but thankfully, this time Lee passes the test. Marriage, promotions, political maneuverings, riots, a hostage situation, and a surprise cliffhanger ending are just a sample of the events that unfold in this thoroughly satisfying motion picture.

Proving worthy of his Best Actor nomination, Andy Lau excels in the role of Lee Rock, playing him as the idealistic country bumpkin in the early portions of the film, yet modifying his portrayal ever so minutely as the character develops over time. Somehow, Lau is able to control his smarminess level, letting it slowly leak to the surface in tandem with Lee Rock's ascension to power. Similarly, the performances of Lau's fellow cast members are equally strong with too many fine turns to single out in the space of a single review.

Like life, Lee Rock unfolds in a series of random events, and it's this seeming absence of a hackneyed formula (save for the cliffhanger) that adds to the illusion of realism. And though the film's lack of trademark over-the-top action might disappoint viewers whose interest in Hong Kong films depends solely on the number of slow-motion gun battles, I found Lee Rock's relatively action-free narrative to be a refreshing departure from the mindless "Let's blow stuff up!" mentality that typifies many a cops 'n robbers flick. Underneath the romance and the drama, it's the ethical quandaries that Lee faces that provide the backbone of the film. It's a Catch-22: you can't clean up the streets as simple beat cop, but you can't move up the ladder unless you get your hands dirty. Unfortunately, it's only by taking kickbacks that Lee Rock is able to get ahead in the world. And consequently, the reachable goal here is not to become a force of good, but instead to be the lesser of two evils. It's the only way that Lee Rock can make some effective changes within a system that runs on corruption. Whether he ultimately becomes the solution or just another part of the problem remains to be seen; that answer lies in the sequel. (Calvin McMillin 2003)

Notes: While the Cantonese version of the film plays Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" during the 1950's dance scene, in the Mandarin dub track, there's only generic instrumental music.
Awards: 11th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Winner - Best Supporting Actor (Kwan Hoi-San)
Nomination - Best Picture
Nomination - Best Actor (Andy Lau Tak-Wah)
Nomination - Best Supporting Actress (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching)
Nomination - Best Screenplay (Chan Man-Keung)
Nomination - Best Cinematography (Lee Chi-Hang, Andrew Lau Wai-Keung)
Nomination - Best Art Direction (Mok Siu-Kei)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Vicol Entertainment Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also available on Blu-ray Disc
Also see: Lee Rock II (1991)
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image courtesy of Mei Ah Laserdisc Co., Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen