Magazine article Screen International

'The Mobfathers': HKIFF Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Mobfathers': HKIFF Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Herman Yau Lai-to. Hong Kong, 2016, 94 mins

Prolific Hong Kong filmmaker Herman Yau sets his sights on the city's recent political unrest for The Mobfathers, his second new film (after Nessun Dorma) to debut at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival. Starring Chapman To as one of five gang bosses vying for the triad Dragon Head leadership, this is a thinly-veiled allegory of Hong Kong's ongoing desire for universal suffrage.

Johnnie To used a similar format to put Hong Kong-China relations under the spotlight in his Election films a decade ago, but The Mobfathers is neither as polished nor as subtle. China will be ruled out for distribution, and business outside of Hong Kong may be limited due to the film's rough finish and overtly local focus. But its firm footing in the gangster genre, coupled with the re-teaming of Yau with the actor Anthony Wong - who plays the omnipotent Godfather - may pique interest for die-hard aficionados further afield.

After serving five years for brawling, Chuck (Chapman To) - head of the Metal Gang - is released into a volatile triad climate, narrowly escaping an assassination attempt the moment he leaves prison. The three-yearly Dragon Head elections are imminent, where a small collective of senior "uncles" select the nominal leader of the five Hong Kong gangs. But when the Godfather (Anthony Wong) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he sets out to restructure the crime organisation to his liking.

At home, Chuck finds his wife (Bonnie Xian) tiring of life as a mobster's moll, and his mischievous young son, Chuck Jr. (Leander Lau) is already proving to be a hothead in the primary school playground. Best buddy Luke (Philip Keung) has done his best to keep things on an even keel in Chuck's absence, but the emergence of Wulf (Godfrey Wong) - a gay former undercover cop who is now the leader of the Fire gang - looks set to derail Chuck's chances of winning the Dragon Head and control of the streets.

Needless to say, the real power lies not with Chuck, Wulf or anyone working at street level, but with the Godfather's central committee of ageing mobsters. When Chuck and Wulf are nominated as the election's official candidates, Chuck turns on his supposed benefactors, not only demanding that each member of the five gangs is permitted to vote, but that they should also select their own candidates. …

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