Cageman (1992)
Reviewed by: STSH on 2008-03-31
Summary: Virtuoso filmmaking
Perceptive and intelligent script. Witty dialogue. First rate direction. Thoroughly believeable characters. Heartfelt and fiery performances from Hong Kong’s best actors. It is easy to see why this film won so many awards.

And the subject could hardly be less glamorous. The scenario seems to have been drawn from Kurosawa’s version of The Lower Depths. Accepting ElectraWoman’s observation that the situation is portrayed with at least a thin coating of sugar, Cageman remains a bittersweet pill with perhaps equal parts of outrage, humour and resignation to the inevitable.

The camaraderie among the Cagemen is warm and palpable. The way they look out for each other, inevitably and hilariously bicker, and then close ranks when trouble threatens, one almost wishes to hang out with them for awhile. This feeling passes quickly, as the realities and discomforts are frequently highlighted.

This is an ensemble cast, and it is difficult to pick a stand out actor. I’d happily adopt Ku Feng’s character as a grandfather. Roy Chiao delivers a performance both tough and sensitive as a man struggling to keep his naughty retarded son in line. (The wine-scaring motif is just magic). Teddy Robin Kwan plays his ‘againster’ character to the hilt. Michael Lee is the essence of defiant dignity. The great Victor Wong puts in a rare appearance in a HK film (he’s based in the US). Even Wong Ka Kui does a creditable job as a dissolute punk. Woo Fung hits all the right notes as a local copper just doing his job who genuinely likes the Cagemen.

Although we all love the silliness and manic energy of HK cinema, it is refreshing to watch a movie that treats its audience as mature adults. The script goes far beyond simple good versus bad, worthy versus greedy. My one gripe is that, in covering the views and actions of all the ‘stakeholders’ (sorry – my public service background coming through), the film runs too long. At just under two and a half hours, Cageman is one of the longest HK commercial films. That said, I am hard-pressed to think what could be edited out as, despite the sometimes leisurely pace, there is barely a frame wasted.

Essential viewing for any fan of mature drama, in or outside of HK cinema.
Reviewer Score: 9