The Last Tycoon: a Blu-ray review, a movie starring Chow Yun-Fat, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Xiaoming Huang, Frances Ng, Yuan Quan, and Monica Mok, and directed by Jing Wong.
Release Date: September 17, 2013
The movie opens in 1917 China where Cheng Daqi, an unassuming grocery clerk, spends his days longing for time together with his lovely young neighbor and aspiring opera singer, Ye Zhiqiu. The two share tender moments and dream of running away to the big city to escape from their menial lives. One fateful evening, Daqi interrupts a tryst between his married female boss and the town’s chief of police, prompting the policeman to jail him for rape to quiet him. In jail, he makes a pact with a mysterious criminal Mao that will change the course of his life forever. Daqi rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld with his loyal friend at his side. He has riches, women, and respect, but the one thing that eludes him is the love of a simple village girl who dreamt of becoming a star in the Peking Opera. Told in a series of flashbacks, Well Go USA‘s The Last Tycoon is loosely based upon real-life Shanghai gangster and friend of Chiang Kai-shek, Du Yusheng.
Run Time: 119 min
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Language: Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0
The digitally shot film is luxurious to the eye. It manages to both convey fine detail and an upperclass softness to the interior scenes of the hotel and other residences while imparting a gritty, dark, and decaying sense to the scenes of imprisonment and destruction. We feel the dampness in Madame Ling’s bones as she languishes in her dank cell. The transfer is very fine and realistic except for the war scenes. Street scenes of bombing and destruction have a very obvious CGI feel to them; you almost expect to see a green screen artifact here or there.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one scene in the movie: older Zhiqiu is walking in the rain on the streets of Shanghai in a blue dress with a black umbrella when she is descended upon by a group of assassins all dressed in black suits and carrying black umbrellas. She is ultimately rescued by one of Daqi’s loyal men assigned to shadow her. The sheer beauty of this scene in slow motion and shot from above was absolutely stunning and surely one of the best of the entire film.
The Blu-ray disc has two separate audio choices: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and Dolby Digital 2.0, both in Mandarin. (A Cantonese version of the film was made available in mainland China.) The DTS-HD surround sound track is largely lossless and displays the wide range of surround sound in a number of scenes ranging from crowd scenes to individual dialogue. Audio is clear with distinct dialogue, excellent directional panning on aerial attack scenes, and the copious gunfights.
Blu-ray Bonus Content
Making Of (HD, 11:16) covers the production and includes behind-the-scenes footage, choreography of the fight scenes, and interviews with director, cast and crew.
Trailer (HD, 1:05)
The Last Tycoon is a sweeping, sumptuous feast of a biopic with something for everyone: suave gangsters, beautiful romance, old school glamour, riveting action, and a historical angle. The real-life Du’s star rose quickly through the gangland empire to become one of the legendary Three Shanghai Tycoons. He was a huge financial backer of the Kuomingtang against Mao Tse-Tung and his Communist rebels. He lost everything when China fell to the Communists forcing him to flee to Hong Kong.
In the film, the Three Tycoons are represented by Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiaoming in youth and Chow Yun-Fat in middle age), Maozi (Francis Ng), the corrupt police officer whom he meets in jail as a young man, and Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), the Chief of Police who also happens to be a major Triad Boss.
The initial scenes with young Daqi are sweet, but slow-moving. Very little time was spent on developing his budding romance with young Zhiqiu. Inevitably, they are separated by circumstance and both find their calling—he as a gangster and she as an opera singer. He meets and falls in love with beautiful and devoted Bao while she marries the boring and stable Zhamei (Xin Baiqing) who also happens to be a secret Communist operative.
The film picks up speed and really begins to shine when the two lovers meet again in glamorous Shanghai. In the backdrop of impending attacks by Japanese Imperial forces and the fall of China to the Communists, Daqi struggles as part of two love triangles while maintaining his loyalty to his boss, the boss’s wife, and his best friend and side-kick till the end. The political machinations required to maintain his status and remain alive might be confusing to some unfamiliar with the history of the Communist takeover. Admittedly, the film is a bit fuzzy around the edges with Daqi’s true political intentions; his various donations and appointments seem almost an afterthought while his mind remains on his love(s).
Though a lot of attention and screen time is giving to the men in this story, the women steal the scenes in their own way. Wenjuan Joyce Feng is sweetly innocent as young Zhiqiu; early on, there is a scene of young Zhiqiu and young Daqi on a rooftop at sunset that was beautiful in its simplicity. Unfortunately, we do not see enough of her; she exists only to set up older Zhiqiu’s success in the Peking Opera. Young Bao played by Kimmy Tong is similarly underutilized to the extent that Monica Mok could have realistically played Bao in both eras, albeit with far less makeup. Mok really makes a memorable impression as Bao, a character designed to fade into the background in favor of the more glamorous Zhiqiu. Yuan Li as Police Chief Hong Shouting’s business savvy wife is quite satisfying in her scenes. She embodies the perfect mix of beauty and poise with an undercurrent of danger, quite reminiscent of Talia Shire as Connie Corleone in The GodfatherPart III. Yuan Quan, though infuriating in her oscillating rejection and enticement of Daqi as older Zhiqiu, manages to convey a delicacy through all of her scenes.
Of course, lovely as the ladies are, everyone is here for Chow Yun-Fat. Fans of the superstar will appreciate the many scenes of him wielding guns and exacting justice all while dressed as a dapper don. He fills the room with his presence and essentially carries the film over its underdeveloped writing in the second and third portions. He brings a quiet dignity to his struggle to choose between the two women he loves; this is some of his best dramatic work since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
My Rating 8/10