Review: ‘The Story of Kong Ngee’ retrospective

Review by: Mountain Monkey

Story of a discharged prisoner-2Hong Kong film fans in Singapore were offered a rare treat last month, when the National Museum of Singapore presented ‘The Story of Kong Ngee’ retrospective. Presented in conjunction with the Hong Kong Film Archive, 15 Cantonese movies produced by the Kong Ngee Film Company in the 1950s and 1960s were showcased.

Though later based in Hong Kong (as was the Shaw Organization), the Kong Ngee Film Company was founded in Singapore by brothers Ho Khee-yong and Ho Khee-siang. Starting off as a film distribution company with cinema halls across Malaysia and Singapore, the Ho brothers eventually expanded into making modern films with ‘traditional values’. While most of the Kong Ngee films presented during the October retrospective were dramas, two influential action thrillers produced by the studio were screened.

The Dreadnaught (1966) — SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Original 'goo wak jai' Patrick Tse (Cheuk-ho) in bad boy shades... for the entire movie!

Original ‘goo wak jai’ Patrick Tse (Cheuk-ho) in bad boy shades… for the entire movie!

Director Chan Man, one of the key personnel at Kong Ngee, turned his attention from dramas to realistic action films with The Dreadnaught. Cheuk-ho (Patrick Tse) is a cheeky mobster with a heart who finds himself on the opposite side of the law from a fellow war orphan, Wai-kit (Chow Chung). Wai-kit vows to follow in the footsteps of his adopted father by joining the police force and complications ensue when the two friends fall in love with the police inspector’s daughter. The Dreadnaught‘s theme of brotherhood and the thin line between good and evil became a huge influence on Hong Kong crime dramas and action movies (think John Woo).

Jarring music ripped off from the James Bond movies aside, all actors in The Dreadnaught put in great performances. Patrick Tse in particular is stellar as Cheuk-ho and establishes himself as the pre-eminent bad boy in Hong Kong cinema of the period. Notably, two decades later, his son Nicholas Tse establishes himself as the ‘goo wak jai’ of the 1990s when he debuts in Young and Dangerous: The Prequel (1998).

Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967) — SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Patrick Tse (Hung) drops the shades as he stands up for what's right in Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967).

Patrick Tse (Hung) drops the shades as he stands up for what’s right in Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967).

Patrick Tse continues his role as the anti-hero of Kong Ngee, this time starring as Hung, an ex-convict trying to redeem himself in an unforgiving Hong Kong society of the 1960s.

While Patrick had his cheeky moments in The Dreadnaught, he puts away his shades in Story of a Discharged Prisoner and gives a fantastic performance as a tragic ex-con trying to turn over a new leaf while being rejected by his own family and pursued by the police and the triads.

Director Patrick Lung Kong’s melancholic tale of redemption is both dramatic, stylish and exciting, inspiring John Woo to make A Better Tomorrow (1986) two decades later. If there ever was a movie to illustrate the pains rehabilitated ex-cons go through to gain re-acceptance into society, this is it.

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About The Author

Mountain Monkey's cozy childhood afternoons with Thunderbirds were forever shattered by a creepy matinee, 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'. Things were never quite the same for Mountain Monkey, who developed a fascination for the esoteric side of cinema from a worryingly young age. These days, Mountain Monkey would rather be catching up with some shut eye and the latest Criterion Collection release, but the SCUM mission has come calling. Ohm...


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