Director: Jason Kwan
Cast: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Gordon Lam, Cya Liu, Eddie Peng, Simon Yam, Chan Chun-Fung, Kent Cheng, Hedwig Tam, Lam Suet, Philip Keung, Mike Leeder
Running Time: 115 min.
By Paul Bramhall
On paper at least, I Did It My Way feels like it should be the subtitle for a 4th instalment of The White Storm franchise. Like each instalment of the popular action thrillers, the focus is on a trio of characters in a plot centered around the drug trade, with undercover cops, brotherhood, and loyalty all playing important parts in the narrative. However, it’s not, instead being the sophomore solo directorial outing for Jason Kwan, a director of photography who turned director in 2017 with A Nail Clipper Romance, and would go on to co-helm both Chasing the Dragon and its sequel with Wong Jing (for whom he’d lensed 2012’s The Last Tycoon). Having no doubt picked up a few pointers from Jing’s 40-year career sitting in the director’s chair, Kwan’s latest comes with a heavyweight cast of Hong Kong talent.
Taking an Infernal Affairs-esque approach, Andy Lau (Mission Milano, Shock Wave 2) plays a lawyer who’s secretly one of Asia’s biggest supplier of drugs on the dark web, an endeavour that he apparently got into to support his pregnant bride-to-be. For any long time fans of Hong Kong cinema who are wondering if a character having a pregnant partner has changed much over the years, the answer is no – it’s still the equivalent of carrying a sign board that reads “I’m going to die tragically before the end credits.” Meanwhile Gordon Lam (Hand Rolled Cigarette, Paradox) plays one of his trusted associates, but is really a tortured undercover cop who just wants out of the game as soon as possible so he can emigrate abroad with his wife and kid. Lam has some suspicions over Lau’s extracurricular activities, but he has no idea of just how much of a key player he actually is.
Playing the somewhat thankless role of the morally upstanding head of the Cybercrime Investigation Unit is Eddie Peng (Hidden Man, Operation Mekong), who’s main job seems to be to deliver a pre-credits lengthy exposition dump in the form of a briefing to his team. Essentially the setup goes that the big boss of Asia’s dark web will be visiting Hong Kong, and Peng along with his elite team of hackers are determined to take him down. All of this results in a rather dreary 115 minutes that sees Kwan clearly attempting to strike a sombre tone, but instead ends up with a plot that’s largely devoid of any tension or narrative thrust.
While it’s a rarity to see Lau cast in a bad guy role, onscreen his character doesn’t quite feel fully realised, with his doting father to be feeling hard to reconcile with the witness assassination montages (yes we get 2 of them!) that he’s coordinated behind the scenes. I Did It My Way’s plot structure is one that requires the audience to want to see the villain fall from grace, but Lau never feels particularly intimidating or even all that evil. The portrayal of drug users is even more ham-fisted, with a montage (yes, another one) showing the cheers and smiling faces of the successful young bidders who took part in a dark web auction feeling completely detached from reality. Like in The White Strom 2: The Drug Lords, which seemed to believe anyone who took drugs was destined to fall off the top of tall buildings, here the drug addled users are soon doing the same (or to mix things up a bit, walking in front of speeding traffic).
Depending on your perspective, the issues with the narrative will be either offset or confounded by some of the special effects work. In a year that saw some (unintentionally amusing) old school visualisations of the internet in Cyber Heist, I Did It My Way looks to compliment them with the dark web’s firewall visualised as a kind of gigantic Death Star, and the users trying to access it shown as lasers attempting to penetrate the invisible shield. It’s hockey stuff, but nothing compared to the baby Andy Lau becomes the father of, which seems to have been created either completely by CGI in some scenes, and in others what looks to be a dummy prop which has had a CGI face somewhat disturbingly superimposed onto it. It’s the later technique which is used in a scene intended to be the most heart wrenching moment of the production, but unfortunately the less than convincing effect sees its intentions completely miss the mark.
Thankfully we get one brief but satisfying fight sequence which is done without the intrusion of any CGI, with the legendary Chin Kar Lok onboard as action director. Both I Did It My Way and Goldfinger (which would be released just a month later, and also stars the ever-busy Andy Lau) mark Kar Lok’s return to action directing for the first time since before the pandemic, and it’s an undeniable pleasure to see him flexing his fight choreography muscles. Pitting Eddie Peng against stuntman and martial artist Chan Chun-Fung (House of Wolves, Special Female Force), they engage in a knock down drag out brawl in a wine cellar that gets the adrenaline pumping, and there’s even a kick thrown in that’ll be instantly recognisable for anyone familiar with Kar Lok’s work.
Sadly it’s the only highlight on the action front though, with the rest consisting of uninspired shootouts and a criminally dull car chase. If anything the other action highlight would have to be watching Lam Suet attempt to race up several flights of stairs, of which once he reaches the top and divulges some critical information, he proceeds to collapse and fall into a coma. The scene at least feels more realistic than watching drug users stumbling around to their deaths. For the most part though Feng’s sophomore outing flying solo in the director’s chair feels too pedestrian and restrained to fully engage and be invested in.
There are far too many shots of computer screens, the usual bland interrogation room scenes, and a few too many puzzling narrative contrivances, none more so than how Andy Lau managed to arrange for a homeless charm seller to deliver his marriage proposal to their car window (it’s as weird as it sounds). Lau’s bride-to-be is notably played by one of the brightest new talents working in the Hong Kong film industry in the form of Cya Liu, who delivered a blistering performance in Soi Cheang’s Limbo in 2021. Here she’s largely relegated to a dutiful wife role which hardly stretches her acting range, although for anyone who complained about the 22-year age gap between Jackie Chan and Shu Qi in 1999’s Gorgeous, here the gap between Lau and Liu smashes it out of the park with 28 years between them.
For fans of Hong Kong cinema there are plenty of other familiar faces onboard, with Simon Yam playing Eddie Peng’s superior, Kent Cheng as a local eatery owner, and Mike Leeder turns up looking like a Che Guevara-esque drug lord, hamming it up like he’s in a different movie altogether. There’s even a bizarre meta-moment thrown in for good measure, which sees Simon Yam and Andy Lau discussing which one of them looks older on camera, an exchange which I’m still not sure was supposed to be humorous or played straight. Ultimately though no matter how much nostalgia seeing such familiar faces on screen may induce, it’s hard to deny that Kwan’s first attempt at helming a crime thriller is missing one too many of the ingredients needed to really make the genre work.
Save for the aforementioned fight, and one particularly effective moment of tension (that involves a screensaver of all things!), I Did It My Way never really shifts out of neutral, and as a result much of it feels flat. Perhaps one day Kwan will look back, and like Frank Sinatra himself once sung in the song the title is taken from, will realise he bit off more than he could chew. That certainly seems to be the case, as the story itself could well have been a compelling one in the hands of a more experienced director, but here the spark is just missing. In one scene Gordon Lam turns to Andy Lau and tells him “Oldies are still the best.” When it comes to Hong Kong crime thrillers, it’s hard to disagree.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5.5/10