13 January 2003 | Bogey Man
Brutal, dark and merciless gangster depiction by Kirk Wong
Veteran Hong Kong director Kirk Wong made his directorial debut, The Club, in 1981 when he had returned to Hong Kong from England where he was studying. He got a great cast for this first film of his, including the real life triad member/gangster Michael Chan Wai Man as the leading role as Sai, a powerful triad member who struggles the bloody war about the ownership of one local gang operated restaurant night club. The film is so filled with violence that it becomes its most important character, too, and replaces the "plot" easily and with purpose.
The carnage-o-meter is here as high as in the other harrowing Hong Kong experiences like Ringo Lam's School on Fire (1988) and Simon Nam's Her Vengeance (1986). Both these films end in hyper dark and brutal bloodbath where the characters, people, become beasts and act as brutely as an animal can, and thus these films are very pessimistic and honest about human nature, too. School on Fire is the strongest (and most censored) one and has also a merciless bits of social commentary in it. The Club belongs to the same category as these and the violence is no less painfull to watch, in fact it gets even worse at some points. The characters just don't seem to be able to act in any other way than violence. They are greedy and if they can't get what they want they'll attack and use force and kill.
The film should have had little more carefully constructed story and some elements that it could be taken as even more noteworthy statement about human being and criminal underworld in the society. Now it feels a little too straight no matter how powerful it still is. Of course it depicts the triad gangsters' lives in the most possible realistic way as Chan was involved in it, but still they should have depicted also some contrast and "cure" for the problems the film is telling about. There doesn't even seem to be police in the town, only gangsters and victims. What makes the symbolism of the barbarity of human nature in its most weakest moment even more powerful is the fact that there are no fire arms in the piece, only huge knives and the like. The most insane acts include boat engines and hair dryer and the violence in this film is among the strongest and most off putting I've seen in any film, Hong Kong or other.
The film has some great moments and occasionally it looks surprisingly similar with Martin Scorsese's impressive GoodFellas (1990) with its tightly edited montages and strong introduction of new characters, and The Club is equally easy to sit through very "fast" with the Scorsese film(s). Also the soundtrack is great and so is in Scorsese's films. One scene that stands out in the telling the daily life of the gangster is the long but delightfully edited and interesting weight lifting sequence at Chan's apartment one morning. The Club makes me expect extremely much from the other work of Kirk Wong.
Wong's filmography includes more or less masterpiece titles like Organized Crime and Triad Bureau (1994), Rock n' Roll Cop (1994) and Gunmen (1988) and some others, too, and those films that I've managed to see from him are nothing short of impressive, honest, intense and merciless. The Club is among the most memorable Hong Kong films of the eighties and due to its universal theme and extremely strong imagery and elements it will not lose its impact while years pass by. This is something only Hong Kong cinema seems to be able to deliver. 7/10