Rich And Famous / Tragic Hero

Rich And Famous / Tragic Hero (1987)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Danny Lee

Tai Seng Video Marketing has been preparing two new domestic releases for fans of Hong Kong cinema. This time Tai Seng is serving up an epic story of the Chinese Mafia, surrounding the mob boss Lee Ah-Chai, portrayed with suave by Chow Yun-Fat. Coming on two separate discs, the story begins with "Rich And Famous" and comes to a furious conclusion on the sequel "Tragic Hero." Eager to see Chow Yun-Fat in the father of a Mafia godfather, I gave both discs a thorough look to see how director Taylor Wong’s intensive saga has been converted to DVD.

Stuck with gambling debts, the brothers Yung (Alex Man) and Kwok (Andy Lau) are in a precarious situation, as the collector’s are ready to cut off their fingers unless the two pay up. Desperately they seek help from Lee Ah-Chai (Chow Yun-Fat) the local triad leader. Chai helps and decides to hire the brothers for his own enterprises. Energetic and reliable, Kwok soon becomes Chai’s right-hand man, much to the dismay of Yung, who feels constantly left out and overlooked. Frustration builds and as a confrontation with an opposing triad leader builds, Yung shows his real face. In a bloody showdown he changes sides and opposes the man who saved his life.

In "Tragic Hero," the sequel to this story, Chai is driven by revenge. Yung has not only destroyed much of his life work, but also put Chai’s personal life in shambles. Without the help of Kwok, who has left Hong Kong for solitude, he tries to track down Yung, but the aspiring young mobster always seems to be one step ahead. Dexterously, Yung creates one set-up for Chai after another, and only when Kwok returns to Hong Kong to help bring this bloody feud to an end, things seem to change. Reunited, Chai and Kwok make their plans to bring Yung down and break the empire that he had built from the remnants of Chai’s triad.

Featuring an incredible cast that shows off some of the best action stars of Hong Kong cinema, the films create a dark image of the Chinese Mob that is intensified by the look of Hong Kong’s stark, urban streets. Not unlike Coppola’s "Godfather" films, "Rich And Famous" and "Tragic Hero" manage to blend violent acts, action, romance and humanity together for a lethal mixture – athough with a very different tone.

Chinese triad movies are unparalleled in their display of violence and "Rich And Famous" and "Tragic Hero" are no exceptions to that rule. While "Rich And Famous" focuses on setting up the story, the bonds between the characters, introducing the viewer to the entire set-up and workings of brother Chai’s operations, "Tragic Hero" is using its running length mostly for violent mass shoot-outs and individual revenge scenarios. It is quite interesting to see how the tone of the two films varies, yet manages to maintain a compatible theme throughout. While the characters don’t really change that much, the events surrounding them become increasingly ferocious and it becomes inevitable that the whole story has to literally implode in the end, as there is not a ray of hope. With a great dramaturgic hand, director Taylor Wong lets the viewer partake in this ride that is sometimes elevating and at others tragically depressing, and he manages to maintain a steady flow that keep viewers completely engaged in the romping action.

Tai Seng Video Marketing is presenting both films in their original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in non-<$16x9,anamorphic> transfers. Sadly the source print that was used for these DVDs was in very bad shape, and the transfer is riddled with grain, scratches and other blemishes. The transfer also has a very soft look and lacks detail definition for the most part. A number of scenes show slight signs of discoloration, although the majority of the film is presented with vivid colros and good hues. Once you get over the obvious detractors, the DVD nonetheless offers an image that is pleasing and much better than other incarnations of the film I had seen before. The framing is good, although "Tragic Hero" renders the <$PS,letterboxed> image slightly off center, moved towards the bottom of the screen. The presentation on this disc shows some signs of <$pixelation,pixelation> and other compression artifacts, but for the majority I never found them truly distracting from the experience, but your mileage may vary.

The DVD comes with audio tracks in Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish, and contains optional English subtitles. Especially the Cantonese <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track is well-produced with good dynamics and a frequency response that reproduces the events on the screen quite naturally. Explosions are voluminous despite the fact that the audio track does not have any notable bass extension. Although presented in a <$5.1,5.1 channel> Dolby Digital mix, the mix is mostly front loaded with the main focus on the center channel. Surrounds are hardly used and the LFE channel is practically never engaged.

"Rich And Famous" and "Tragic Hero" are certainly not releases for everyone but fans of Hong Kong action cinema will be pleased to get the chance to see one of Chow Yun-Fats most enigmatic performance on DVD. The release may not live up to American releases in its presentation quality but at the same, hardly any American action film can hold a candle to the spectacular action and furious shoot-outs we get to see in these films.