Chow is masterful as a mob boss

The Last Tycoon (NC16)

Drama/118 minutes

Rating: 3

Who better to fill the oversized shoes of a Shanghai mob boss than Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat?

Those who lived through the 1980s would recall that he rose to fame with a similar triad role in the iconic Hong Kong TV series The Bund.

Older now, but still as charismatic, Chow slips easily into the role of Cheng, whose rise to the top from the lower rungs of the Shanghai underworld is charted in The Last Tycoon.

Cheng may be a hardened criminal who kills off his enemies unflinchingly, but beneath the tough, cool-as-cucumber facade is a heart of gold that cherishes loyalty between comrades, while exuding patriotism for his country and genuine affection for the women he loves.

This role, which Chow translates with ease, is in line with the many "honourable tough guy" characters he has played throughout his career - from period sword-fighting epics (like Lee Ang's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to crime thrillers (John Woo's A Better Tomorrow and The Killer). So it's no wonder that Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming reportedly felt the pressure when playing the younger version of Cheng, whom we witness getting framed and jailed for murder by a corrupt police chief in China in 1917.

Cheng's cellmate, a nationalist army officer named Mao (Francis Ng), is quick to spot the potential in his determination and fighting spirit. After Mao's soldiers rescue him from prison, he offers Cheng the chance to escape - but not before the latter is goaded into chalking up his first kill. Cheng later lands a job as a henchman with an influential mobster, Hong (Sammo Hung), in Shanghai. He finds himself torn between a songstress he eventually marries, Bao (Mo Xiaoqi), and a former lover, Peking Opera actress Zhiqiu (Yolanda Yuan), whom he hasn't quite got over.

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