March 11, 2009

DVD Review: Protege

Dragon Dynasty's latest release is a film called Protege, a crime drama from 2007 that was nominated for fifteen Hong Kong Film Awards, of which it won two (Best Supporting Actor: Andy Lau and Best Film Editing: Chi-Leung Kwong). The movie is not an action film, although it has no shortage of adrenaline filled sequences, it is much more a dramatic thriller. It chronicles the story of an undercover police officer who is infiltrating a drug running organization, seeking to climb to the top in an effort to take down the entire organization. It bears a resemblance to films like Infernal Affairs and Donnie Brasco.

Writer/director Derek Yee wastes no time throwing you into the drug infested world of Protege. As the scene begins, we watch as a woman, Fan (Zhang Jing Chu), inject herself with heroin and lay down on a couch, needle still hanging from her arm. The scene does not cut as a young child (Tung Tseo-tsz) enters the room, pushing a little red pram. She matter-of-factly goes over to the woman, her mother, removes the needle and places it in the trash basket on the other side of the room. It is a jarring scene, it just breaks my heart that a child would ever be in a position to have to do something like this, and do it as if she has done it many times in the past.

The story proper follows Nick (Daniel Wu). He is the undercover officer climbing the ranks of a drug organization headed by Quin (Andy Lau), who is suffering poor health due to failing kidneys. Quin and Nick have a strong father-son relationship developed as we build towards him either exposing the drug ring or inheriting it. We also watch Nick ponder the nature and reason for addiction through his relationship with Fan, who lives next door to him.

Protege gets down into the nitty gritty of the organization. We are taken deep inside the operation from those who run the show, to the cookers of the drugs, to the runners, to those purchasing he product, and even to the fields of Thailand where poppy and opium are grown. It is quite fascinating to get taken in so deep to the way the business runs.

Or course, the peace cannot last long. Conflict arises on two sides with two very different threat levels. On the low side is the arrival of Fan's husband and enabler. A drug-addled man with an obnoxious attitude who, essentially, challenges Nick for Fan's affections. Fan is the rope in their tug of war, with her husband (Louis Koo) representing a life of addiction and Nick representing a much better way to live.

The other side of the coin is a much more life-threatening. It all begins with Nick nearly getting caught and being forced to reveal the drug kitchen. A violent fight ensues and opens up the suspicion that a rat may be in their midst. This leads to Nick being forced to step up and push his way deeper into the organization.

The film is quite interesting, although it often felt more like a technical exercise to engage the analytical portion of the brain. I felt detached from what was happening, never truly welcomed inside. Still, there were moments where a little bit of heart was able to creep into the narrative.

Daniel Wu, as Nick, does a fine job bringing the film part of its humanity. It comes in small moments, sometimes with Fan, sometimes her daughter, and sometimes with Quin, we get scenes that reach inside and pull you out of the analytical mindset. The same can be said for Andy Lau, who has been turning in strong work for many years.

The entire tale comes full circle with the heartbreaking finale, a sequence that did manage to quash the distancing that much of the narrative fosters. I will not reveal what it is, but it threatened to bring a tear rolling down my cheek.

Audio/Video. The widescreen anamorphic video looks quite good. There is a nice level of grain that gives it a strong film look, with little in the way of any artifacts or other digital issues. The audio is available in its original Cantonese, as well as an English dub. The tracks are crisp, clear, and nicely rendered, although I must recommend leaving it set to Cantonese.

Extras. Like the rest of the Dragon Dynasty line, there is a decent selection of extras here
  • Commentary. The ubiquitous Bey Logan provides commentary here, just as he has for the majority of Dragon Dynasty releases. The man definitely is a fountain of knowledge, there is never a quiet moment as he is constantly providing information about anything and everything related to the film (sometimes I wondered when he had time to take a breath). Definitely worth spending some time with.
  • The Making of Protege. This includes a good helping of set footage along with interviews with all of the principals involved, from actors to creative.
  • Undercover & Over the Edge: Daniel Wu. This is an interview with star Daniel Wu that concerns what it was like making the film and playing this layered character.
  • Chasing the Dragon: Zhang Jing-chu. This is an interview with the actress who portrays Fan, she reveals what it was like to play such a dark an conflicted character.
  • The Dealer: Peter Chan. The producer of the film (one of them) discusses difficulties that came with making this film.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer.

Bottomline. This is definitely a good film. It is an anti drug film that does not shy away from its subject matter and paints a compelling portrait of the business from top to bottom, not to mention a few moving, emotionally charged sequences.



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