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Wise Guys Never Die

(left) Nick Cheung at the tables, and (right) Wong Jing and Alice Chan


Year: 2006  
Director: Wong Jing, Bosco Lam Ling-Hung  
Cast: Nick Cheung Ka-Fai, Wong Jing, Alice Chan Wai, Jolie Chan Yuen-Kei, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Ben Ng Ngai-Cheung, Lo Hung, Jeffrey Chow Chun-Fai
The Skinny: Arrrrgh! Wong Jing's gambling drama has a decent premise, but the execution is shockingly inept. Even more shocking: Wong Jing performs love scenes in this film. Nick Cheung, please go back to Johnnie To.
by Kozo:

Ah, Wong Jing: sometimes you're on the right track, but then you go and ruin it. Hong Kong's tackiest auteur returns to a favored genre with Wise Guys Never Die, but despite the friendly trappings and a workable premise, things go south. Fast. Nick Cheung stars as Nick, an accountant sentenced to prison for allegedly embezzling a ton of dough. The joint is tough on Nick; he receives the Tim Robbins Shawshank Redemption treatment right away, meaning he's ostracized from other inmates, his glasses get broken, plus he makes some new "friends" and eventually has a tough time sitting down. These details officially ruin any chance that this film will be fun, but at least they should make impressionable youngsters think twice about commmitting white collar crimes.

Back to the movie. Nick makes bad bunkmates in the joint, but he also meets Teddy, a shrewd grifter who has the respect of the other inmates and offers to watch Nick's back. Fortunately, Teddy is smart and connected; under his watch, Nick learns plenty of useful card sharking, and no longer has to suffer the indignity of being romanced by fellow inmates. Unfortunately, Teddy is played by Wong Jing. That wouldn't be so bad if Teddy were wacky comedy relief, but Teddy is supposed to be charismatic and rather cool, kind of like a shorter, rounder Chow Yun-Fat from those classic Prison on Fire films. But again, Teddy is played by Wong Jing. If you find the idea of Wong Jing playing a cool, charismatic conman to be disturbing, then congratulations: you're sane.

Nick and Teddy bond big time in prison, such that Teddy offers Nick a job as soon as he gets out. Teddy wants Nick to help him grift people out of their hard-earned cash, with the first target being Dragon (Eddie Cheung), a tough gangster who runs an illegal gambling den. However, Nick senses a betrayal from his supposed buddy. Teddy behaves disingenuously, and even acts mean to his ultra-hot girlfriend Lola (Alice Chan). Nick takes special offense at this because he finds Lola incredibly alluring, an attraction which develops when he spies Lola straddling Teddy in the hot tub. She also licks Teddy's naked torso and engages in numerous steamy (for Hong Kong, anyway) love scenes with him. Uh...yeah. We'll get back to that later.

After getting a peek at her generous form, Nick begins to lust after Lola big time. He grows jealous of Teddy, and begins to get all itchy despite having a loving girlfriend (Jolie Chan) at home. Though he tries to remain content, he simply can't get the image of Lola and Teddy bumping and grinding out of his mind. It's possible the audience won't be able to get the scenes out of their mind either, because it's Wong Jing in them, dammit! Yeah, his character is supposed to be charismatic and cool, but does anyone out there really buy it? And do we have to actually see Alice Chan groping his chubby figure as if it were supposed to be titillating? Seeing Wong Jing go the distance as the co-lead in Wise Guys Never Die is a bit puzzling. Couldn't they have gotten anyone better for the role? Were Francis Ng or Anthony Wong really too busy? And if not, couldn't they have at least gotten Eric Tsang?

This abundance of vitriol towards Wong Jing's casting is probably a bit extreme. Really, he's not that bad at what he usually does. As a writer and director, Wong Jing can put together some funny and entertaining films, and when he tries out dark themes, the lengths to which he goes can sometimes be surprising and even effective. Wise Guys Never Die is one of Wong's darker efforts, and possesses some intriguing ideas, among them its protagonist Nick, who reveals layers of ugliness that ultimately challenge the audience. Nick Cheung tackles the role with a commendable seriousness, and Alice Chan at least fulfills the sexy portion of her role. Plus, Wong Jing really isn't that bad as Teddy. The character has a certain likable quality, and Wong Jing can do likable.

However, that last statement only applies if one forgets that Wong Jing is at the helm of this sinking ship - and really, it's hard to forget that he is. There's a decent noirish plot in Wise Guys Never Die, but Wong Jing's direction is too unconvincing and unimaginative to get it to work. Too many sequences are dragged down by boring exposition, plus there are some scenes which seem merely confusing and/or unnecessary. Wong doesn't develop his situations properly; Nick's attraction to Lola is supposed to be a big deal, but the chemistry between Nick Cheung and Alice Chan is rather weak. Teddy is also not sufficiently developed. If Wong Jing's acting is supposed to make him fascinating and/or worth caring about then the filmmakers must be drunk, or expecting that their audience will be. The characters aren't attractive either, and ultimately it's hard to care what happens to them. Worst of all, the film fails to entertain on even the most basic level. I could go on forever.

Perhaps this is all about expectations. The poster for Wise Guys Never Die features a scene of Nick Cheung playing poker with a dog, a crocodile, and a smarmy Wong Jing - images that make one think they're in for one of those trademark Wong Jing laffers. No dice: the plot begs seriousness, with murder, betrayal, and other sordid stuff in the offing. The problem is that Wong Jing can't seem to channel seriousness into the story, and even his big twists and turns sometimes play like Scooby Doo-level reveals rather than the dark surprises they should be. Also, it's unfortunate to say it, but Wong Jing is hard to take seriously as an actor. One just has to look at the guy and the giggles begin. In the end, this is just another failed attempt from a filmmaker who apparently still struggles to be taken seriously. And if Wise Guys Never Die wasn't supposed to be taken seriously, then they failed too, because it's not fun or entertaining, and is only mildly diverting in that "oh wow, they actually made this movie" sort of way. Unfortunately, that isn't enough. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales Film and Video Distributors
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of City Entertainment Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen