One of the top underrated on-screen teams of 80’s Hong Kong cinema, Chow Yun-Fat and Andy Lau, team up for the first time in this breathtaking action thriller.
Refugees Tang Kar-Yung, his sister Wai-Chu, and Lam Ting-Kwok have tried to make a living in Hong Kong with the Tungs’ father. Wai-Chu has worked as a hooker to help make ends meet, especially due to Yung’s addicting gambling habit. When they have a chance to steal a cargo in gold from local crime boss Chu, they seize it. However, when they are confronted, Wai-Chu is seriously injured and Kwok becomes the scapegoat.
Wai-Chu finds help in the form of Li Ah-Chai, one of the most respectable gangsters in Hong Kong. Chai helps Wai-Chu and Yung release Kwok. In exchange, the refugees work for Chai as his new right hand men. When a deal goes bad, Kwok is nearly killed but that becomes the least of Chai’s problems. Learning his old friend Uncle Fan is ill, he learns Fan has no longer involved himself with Thailand’s top drug trafficker Hung Yai. Everyone wants a piece of the action and to do so, Fan must be killed. However, Chai refuses to hand him over.
Things come ahead when Chai finds himself a love in Lau Po-Yee, Fan’s nurse and the cousin of Kwok’s friend Mak Ying-Hung, who was offered a job in Chai’s gang only to be dropped due to his nervousness. Yung slowly begins to talk out of line and shows disrespect to Chai. When Yung retaliates by killing Fan for $25 million HK, Yung is kicked out of Chai’s gang. Yung sides with Chu, who holds a major grudge against Chai. Yung decides that he will do anything to make sure he gets the money, even if it means turning on his own “brother”, Kwok.
The title of this film is quite meaningful, as it revolves around two refugees who are willing to sacrifice themselves to be “rich and famous” in the underworld. While Chow Yun-Fat plays one of the underworld bosses, the story’s primary focus seems to be on the relationship and eventual split between “brothers” Kwok and Yung, played well by a young Andy Lau and Alex Man. While Lau seems to play the more righteous of the two, Man gives a surprising performance as the more greedy of the two. This is evident from the opening of the film, where Yung attempts to forge a ticket after losing a horse race. From stealing the embargo of gold to rising in the ranks of Chai’s gang, Yung clearly is the epitome of the downside to being “rich and famous”.
Singer/actor Alan Tam gets the MVP award for improvement of character in the film, due in part to the script, written by Stephen Shiu and Manfred Wong. Tam’s character of Hung starts off as a nervous wreck and improves throughout the film as one with self-confidence. In the climax, it is an action from Hung that surprises and helps saves the major characters of the film. Even veteran kung fu film star Fan Mei-Sheng gives a great performance in his screen time as Fan, who Chai is loyal to. In the scene where he reveals he is ill, he gives out quite a dramatic performance. For some reason, Danny Lee is top billed yet he doesn’t get much screen time in the role of a tough Hong Kong cop out to nail Chai. He pretty much falls in the unnecessary characters and didn’t need to be in the film.
There are bullets ablazing in this film, strictly making this one of the more generic brands of heroic bloodshed. One would never imagine that the man responsible for the action is 1970’s kung fu star Bruce Leung Siu-Lung. Leung crafted some great gun battles in the film mixed in with some nice falls and flips that could make a Jackie Chan fan proud.
A “sequel”, Tragic Hero, was made in 1988 to capitalize on the success of this film. Andy Lau and Alex Man would go on to be respected actors in the triad genre. Lau would play a rebel type in films like As Tears Go By (1988) and The Prince of Temple Street (1990) and as gang bosses in films like Century of the Dragon (1999) and Jiang Hu (2004). Man would play Hung Hing leader Chiang Tin-Yeung in the fourth, fifth, and final installments of the Young and Dangerous films, written by Manfred Wong. Chow Yun-Fat and Andy Lau would team up on Tragic Hero and 1989’s super hit film God of Gamblers.
Rich and Famous is truly the perfect title for this very well-made heroic bloodshed thriller. Great performances from the cast and exhilarating action make this one of the more underrated Hong Kong films of the 1980’s.
WFG RATING: B+
A Win’s Film Limited production. Director: Taylor Wong. Producer: Johnny Mak. Writers: Stephen Shiu and Manfred Wong. Cinematography: Johnny Koo, Abdul M. Rumjahn, and Derek M.K. Wan. Editing: Ma Chung-Yiu.
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Alex Man, O Chun-Hung, Andy Lau, Fan Mei-Sheng, Alan Tam, Pauline Wong, Carina Lau, Peter Yang, Shing Fui-On, Lee Hang, Danny Lee.