“If you really missed not seeing us on screen together, then ‘The Goldfinger’ is your opportunity to do so,” says Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau of his new crime movie where he is again paired with Tony Leung Chiu-wai (“In the Mood for Love”).
The film releases at the end of the month in different parts of Asia and North America (from Dec. 30). Pre-release marketing and promotional efforts make much of the Lau-Leung repairing some twenty years after the “Infernal Affairs” trio of hit movies. The movies were both critical and commercial hits and contained an iconic rooftop scene in Hong Kong’s Wanchai district with the police undercover agent and the mobster’s mole facing off guns drawn.
The pair clearly rate each other highly for their acting skills and for the kind of professionalism that has kept them both a the top of the game for more than two decades. If anything, they claim to be getting better. “I think we’ve gotten a lot more mature over the years and we’ve also built up more acting experience,” Leung said.
But the real magic – like Quentin Tarantino getting John Travolta to dance again in “Pulp Fiction” – is dropping the pair back into a gritty Hong crime thriller that is drawn on a large and somewhat nostalgic canvas. The director and screenwriter of “The Goldfinger” is Felix Chong, who in recent years is known for “Project Gutenberg” and the series of “Overheard” movies, but who hit the big time at the beginning of the decade as co-writer of “Infernal Affairs.”
The new financial crime film pits Lau as a desiccated 1980s crime investigator within the relatively newly formed Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) trying to put Leung as the flamboyant head of the Carmen Century Group behind bars. It is a pursuit that takes many years as, at first, Leung’s character Ching appears to have a Midas touch, building an investment empire through a succession of bold gambles and deft use of shares as a form of payment.
When a stock market rout bankrupts the Carmen group, exposing it as little more than a Ponzi scheme, the sleuth thinks he may have his chance. But the body count grows and justice proves hard to deliver. (Part of the story is said to be based on the real world rise and fall of the Carrian Group.)
“The Goldfinger” has a complex and fast-moving plot with multiple leaps back and forward in time. And a budget big enough to do justice to the period setting and flavors – it takes in a plethora of Hong Kong locations that were hip and luxurious in their day, but which now look gaudy and deliciously retro.
That combination puts “The Goldfinger” in a direct line of succession to Hong Kong noir films such as “Infernal Affairs,” and the oeuvres of Johnny To and John Woo.
This is a genre which may have fallen into partial decline as a result of Hong Kong filmmakers decade-long experiment in making films for mainland audiences (and their more restrictive political overseers) and a renewed focus on smaller-budget, hyper-local films. Since 2019, Hong Kong-made films such as “Table for Six,” “Mama’s Affair” and “A Guilty Conscience” have regained market share of the local box office, but failed to convert wide international audiences.
“Hong Kong films deserve a bigger market. There have been so many new forms of competition that the [Hong Kong] market has shrunk. At the same time, [Hong Kong films’] subject matter has become been more concerned about local and social topics,” says Lau. “But I also hope to see more epic stories, bigger, more globalized stories that also incorporate local [Hong Kong] elements.”
“The theme of financial crimes [such as ‘The Goldfinger’s’] is very attractive and yet very unique. It is something that audiences everywhere in the world can connect with,” said Leung.
Hong Kong may no longer the hub of Asian cinema that it was in the 1980s and 1990s, but the skills endure. Leung said that digital de-aging technology was not used and that his character’s three different looks were achieved the old-fashioned way, with wigs, make up and costume. And, as a performer he had little difficulty getting his head around the chronological challenges. “It was all there on the page,” he said.