It's not everyday that a character in a television series got so well liked by the general public, that a movie gets created for that character in order to allow fans one last hurrah, and dwell a little bit more on the background of the character. In true Hong Kong crime thriller style, the character of actor Michael Tse's Laughing Gor (or literally translated as Brother Laughing, a queer name for a gangster really) gets backed by its TVB television studio and Shaw Bros, and the result is this unfortunate telemovie made for the big screen, directed by Herman Yau.
The story here is nothing new, and the list of films to cite about undercover cops can go up to many miles long. Perhaps what this movie truly resembled in spirit would be Yau's own movie On The Edge starring Nick Cheung as an undercover who had completed his mission, and tries his best to assimilate his life back to normalcy, but facing challenging odds of discrimination. That film also starred Francis Ng and Anthony Wong, and deja-vu when watching this film is quite an understatement.
Set in the earlier days of Laughing before the events of television series E.U., it chronicles the life of a convenience store cashier who gets adopted by Anthony Wong's No. 1, and given the fad of sending your own thugs into the police force, he does the same with Laughing. On the side of the Law, Yuen Biao (good to see him in a supporting role) stars as Superintendent Sin, who eyes this young lad and grooms him into becoming a mole for the police force. Hence Laughing's career as a double agent begins, straddling the thin line of doing good and bad, reporting one to the other side, and vice versa.
What's interesting here is that the bad guys are fully aware of Laughing's status, and that No. 1 himself had been an ex-cop turned undercover, by the same superior. Hence he sees some similarities with Laughing, and tries his best to protect his man against that of his rival (Francis Ng), whose sister Karen (Fala Chen) Laughing falls for. The themes of trust, paranoia and betrayal go full steam ahead since nobody trusts anyone else, and even your most trusted man can betray you just to get ahead, or are listening to orders from the top (Eric Tsang, who was given a very un-Tsang like dubbed Mandarin voice).
And this sense of distrust permeates throughout the film, until it got a tad ridiculous with moles planted on opposite sides of the law, and on the same side, and with undercover cops so easily revealing themselves to their own uniformed folks, it soon became a strange little comedy, where everyone could be working for someone else, capable of switching loyalties at a whim. What made it worse was the narrative trying its best to confuse rather than hold you in suspense, with flash forwards and flashbacks taking their toil.
Somehow I felt that Herman Yau got to direct this with both hands shackled behind his back. Famed for his Cat III classics of violence and sex, there were glimpses of perhaps how far he could have gone should he not be tasked to ensure the appeal and accessibility for a wide spectrum of audience. There was the use of choppers, and a strikingly toned down punishment system where victims get wrapped in plastic and hung up like meat, before given a good whacking. Even the bevy of leggy beauties surrounding Anthony Wong fit the flower vase mold, and if Yau were to be given the green light, well I guess we all know what could happen.
The most powerful scenes and subplot that could be expanded here, involved choice to do the right thing given the circumstances presented, and of course for the greater good. There were two characters who are in stark contrasts with each other, each being in the same boat, but ultimately taking different paths in their lives, with different consequences. Laughter's story, if compared to that of Andy Lau's character in Infernal Affairs, seemed to emerge stronger with a better deal of sorts in convincingly arguing his case of transforming from triad to cop, but alas the twin distractions of Francis Ng doing what he's best, and Anthony Wong's androgynous look complete with lipstick, eyeliner and the mohawk, seemed to have stolen a lot of thunder.
Definitely for the fans of the series only, and those who do not mind Ng and Wong reprising the same old roles all over again.