A True Mob Story (1998)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-01-31
“A True Mob Story” has brutal rapes, a vicious assault on a child, some sappy love stories, murders, motorcycles, drug dealing, VCD pirating and more loose ends than I had thought possible in one movie. The script is a complete mess, the cinematography is by the numbers and the art direction make it look like a million other movies. There are huge holes in the plot—Brother Prince tells his gang to kill Dee but Dee shows up in the next scene just knocked around a bit. Dee’s son is horrifically injured in a hellish attack by Crazy Ball but after what is supposed to be a touching reunion with his father the kid isn’t mentioned for the rest of the film. A first person POV shot of Sandy entering the courtroom—one that should be a bit suspenseful—is spoiled when the audience immediately sees the person they should think has the POV. There are two really annoying cross cuts—one between Dee getting beaten while the same thing happens to his son, one with Dee being dragged to still another beating interspersed with shots of Crazy Ball’s henchmen dragging Ruby. They don’t add anything—they are just there, calling attention to themselves. Perhaps Wong Jing wanted to let an uncredited apprentice editor fool around a bit.

There are a few reasons to watch “A True Mob Story” though. Ben Ng Ngai-Cheung with a big assist from Lai Ka-Pik, the makeup artist, creates an extraordinarily evil character. When Crazy Ball takes his sunglasses off it is a shock—he has become a Cyclops both in looks and in attitude with all the blood lust that the original monster had. His actions match his hideous demeanor—while Brother Prince is a disgusting person, it is possible to feel just a bit of sympathy for him when Crazy kidnaps him. He is even more merciless when the truly innocent fall into his power.

And there is Gigi Leung. Her excellent, understated characterization of Sandy is really the center of the movie—and she looks very cute in her white barrister wig. We remain interested in her even when Sandy gets overly predictable, such as when she falls in love with Dee while hanging on to him as they flee on a stolen motorcycle from a gang of chopper wielding maniacs or when she throws away her career, her engagement and her entire life for no particular reason other than it was the only way to end the movie.

There is an odd little bit of gender switching during a dinner the first time Sandy represents Dee in court—Ruby says to Michael that if she were a man she would have married Sandy already. Then Michael tells Dee’s son that he is looking at Dee because he is cute and that if he (Michael) were a woman he would fall for Dee. It doesn’t go anywhere but nothing really does in “A True Mob Story.”

Interesting discussion of movie piracy and mob-run bootleg VCD production—which, Wong Jing seems say, is not as bad as selling drugs to school kids, a stand with which the MPAA would not agree. These pirates have standards: the production manager at the illegal factory doesn’t want to burn copies of the latest stolen film because the quality of the source material, a camcorder tape made from the audience at the first showing is so poor. He is convinced to do so when Brother Prince tells him their customers don’t expect anything good since it is so cheap and then beats him up.

“A True Mob Story” is an example of movie as product—clear several weeks to shoot, get some actors and technicians together with an outline of a script (which stayed an outline), get it shot and edited and ready to go on the screen when the distributor and exhibitors need it. There is nothing at all wrong with that—lots of good even great movies have been made in that fashion although with an actual script. One big difference between Hong Kong filmmaking and Hollywood is that the movies actually got made and shown to paying audiences. The same movie in Hollywood may have spent a couple of years in “development” (also know as being ignored or hell) with countless script rewrites before the cameras start to roll, often for a different studio than the one that initially purchased the script. Or it may just kick around for years and never get made. More money will have been spent on in not making the movie than it takes to write, shoot, edit, print, distribute and exhibit a film in Hong Kong. Hong Kong movie making has been in a slump for years but is still leagues ahead of Hollywood in the most important aspect of the art/business—getting stuff done.

Not recommended
Reviewer Score: 3