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< < < Back to Part 2, the review for Kung Fu Hustle (2004) < < <
I miss those Hong Kong movies where the characters are "masters of their trades" and display almost supernatural abilities in doing whatever they do. In John Woo's ultra violent action tales, his characters are modern versions of the American cowboy from the post war westerns, with hints of the spaghetti genre. A World Without Thieves is a simple movie that brings back the concept of human feats and grand adventures to Hong Kong fares.
WANG Bo (Andy Lau) is a brilliant thief who is so quick, agile and creative with his hands that he can pretty much steal anything he sets his eyes upon. Accompanied by his wife WANG Li (Rene Liu), they flee Hong Kong after a heist and go to the Mainland to visit some temples in the north in order to pickpocket some tourists and other travelers. There, they meet a simple young man, Root (Baoqiang Wang), who had been working in a temple for several years in order to save up money and bring it back to his family for their farm. The young man is very naive and very careless, and quickly attracts a group of thieves interested in the large sum of money he has with him. Li takes pity on him quickly and convinces Bo to protect him on his journey back.
And what a journey. Aboard a large train, we are treated to an amazing trip throughout north-western China, in what looks like a historic train, populated by a wide range of individuals, from very poor people to obviously very rich people, all living together in this train for several days. In a Die Hard kind of way, we have in a confined space many people who will interact, sometimes in deadly ways: the two thieves, the young man, the local police, the other group of thieves, some under-cover cops, and the regular travelers. This is undeniably a cool movie. The characters are fun and rich, and the confined space of this train creates many opportunities for subtle fights or other types of interactions. There are many cool tricks, including a great scene where Andy Lau is trying to show off his skills by peeling an egg in a cool way, and the old leader of the rival gang of thieves, Uncle Bill (You Ge), does it one better by peeling a raw egg just by spinning it between his fingers. Those people can do amazing things that no ordinary person could ever do. Their skills are quite incredible. The most interesting part of the story to me though was the train itself. The movie is filmed so well and you get a great feel for what traveling in Northern China can feel like. This is great overall cinematography and art direction. The train feels alive, and the countryside it goes through during this trip is breath taking.
Acting-wise, Andy Lau is always cool. He is one of the coolest Hong-Kong star alive and through the 90's and early new millennium, he pulled in a few classic films. Tian Yu Di and Fulltime Killers are some of my personal favorites. Recently though, over the past few years, i haven't seen him in any single good movie. Things such as Fat Choi Spirit and company... were really bad, so when he plays an interesting character in a cool movie, it's really good. The young man is an up and coming actor you may have previously seen in Blind Shaft. He seems like a good actor, but so far, i have seen him only in the same type of role, the naive country bumpkin about to be taught a life lesson. He is definitely convincing in this role and counterbalances very well Andy Lau's overly jagged and cynical personality which he accompanies with an over-the-top performance. The girl friend is good too, and of course, the old leader of the rival gang is wonderful. You Ge is a great actor who has played a number of classic Chinese roles in theater and on screen. You may remember him as the old Opera master in Farewell My Concubine.
This is such a fun movie, with great scenery, fun characters, and a great story of cat and mouse in a confined space. The bad-turned-good ace thief tries his best to protect a naive young man from the claws of a rival gang of thieves, all during a cross-country train trip that will take you through some breathless places. This is an action flick. This is a road movie. This is a fun film of rivalries. This is a nice character study of a man trying to redeem himself for unclear reasons and the woman who makes him do it. The film eventually ends on a sad note that nevertheless gives dimension to a story that could have otherwise been filled with cliches.
> > > On to Part 4, the review for Three... Extremes, Dumplings (2004) > > >
- Laurent Hasson