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Once Upon a Time in Triad Society

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 01/28/2007
Summary: Awful

This film is horrid. Whether its purpose was to provide a star vehicle to show off Francis Ng's full range (which it does), or present a gritty and realistic antidote to other crime-glamourizing films of the Young And Dangerous form (which also it does), there is no mistaking that this is a hard film to sit through.

Sympathize with Kwan ? Good grief, never ! The only time he is shown in any sort of good light is when he is lying and, though the script tries to cover for this, it does so in a fairly transparent fashion. Kwan is a thoroughly detestable misanthrope with no redeeming features, and inspires no resonance even as an anti-hero. I repeat, there is never any doubt about this.

Two other films come to mind here. Goodfellas, and To_Be_Number_One. OUATITS is slightly better than TBNO, which is not saying much. The only shade of humour in this very black landscape is near the ending when, like a cockroach, he seems to resist all attempts to be killed. Nastiness pervades every aspect of this production.

Be warned : if the explicit sight of people being forced to eat shit and drink urine is likely to offend, avoid ! Though I like Francis Ng as an actor, and does a great job with the part, I sincerely recommend avoiding this film.

Reviewer Score: 1

Reviewed by: Chinoco
Date: 08/20/2006
Summary: Francis Ng at his best!

Ok, it’s time for me to start writing reviews for some of my favorite movies- not just the ones that I’ve recently viewed. I’ll start with the film that made me a fan of Francis Ng. Once Upon a Time in Triad society is an underrated classic. It’s also unique as Francis portrays Kwan who is both the villain and the hero of the story.

“Once Upon A Time in Triad Society” is essentially a spin-off of “Young and Dangerous”, as Francis Ng plays virtually the same character Kwan. In this case, Kwan is the leader of a Triad group attempting to make a deal with a Japanese gang. In the opening act, Kwan’s true colors are shown as he mistreats his own men, the Japanese, the police, and especially his tailor and his daughter! All of this is done excellently by Francis. Kwan is so over the top that I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s obvious that a guy like Kwan has got to have enemies, and that is made clear when he is shot and seriously injured.

Arriving at the hospital, no one seems to really care about saving Kwan’s life. All of the Nurses and Doctors have heard of his antics and Kwan is put to the end of everybody’s priority lists. Only one police officer wants him to be treated, and that is only due to fact that he needs a statement. Seeing how he is viewed by others, Kwan reflects on his life, and as he suddenly becomes the films narrator, tries to explain how he became such a bad guy. The movie completely switches gears, and we now see how Kwan was just a shy honest kid who is mislead in to joining the Triads based on his belief that it is an honorable society. He spends most of his time checking out a local waitress that he has nicknamed “Restaurant”, too shy to even speak to her. Here we are shown in detail how one by one, Kwan is betrayed by his best friend, two Triad bosses, and finally his girl. Kwan explains to the audience that he had every intention to lead an honorable life, but was dragged down on every occasion. How could he have ended up any other way? Well it’s a good story- but is it true? Next we are treated to another (and more probable) background of Kwan in which he was a bad guy since childhood. In this version Francis graphically shows that it was Kwan who backstabbed and betrayed everyone on his way up the ladder in the society. Which version is the correct one, and if Kwan survives this near-death experience will he change his ways?

What’s great about this movie is the contrast between the two versions. The cast is excellent with the same actors portraying two different versions of their characters. For example, Spencer Lam plays a drug addict Triad in one version, and his priest character from “Young and Dangerous” in the other. Edmond So, although playing Kwan’s best friend in both versions, goes from a sneaky good for nothing con-man, to a trust worthy lounge singer! Francis does an excellent job with the two versions of Kwan. His acting range is on display here as he portrays Kwan on both ends of the spectrum. The good version is so compelling that part of me wanted it to be featured for the entire movie. As for the “Ugly Kwan” character- he’s just so bad that you can’t help but laugh along with him enjoying his antics in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

Everything just clicks in the film, right down to the music. There is even some action thrown in featuring an exciting gunfight at the climax. I give this movie my highest recommendation. Check it out if you have the chance.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 11/01/2005

The story of a gangster named Kwan (Ng) rise and fall in the Triads. This is a sort of spin-off from the Young and Dangerous series. I say "sort of" because while Ng is basically reprising his role as the nasty Kwan from Young and Dangerous 1 and the priest from the series (Lam) makes an appearance, their ends don't mesh with the Y&D storyline. So if you're looking for a prequel to the Y&D series, you may be disappointed.

But actually, the break from Y&D allows Once Upon a Time in Triad Society to break free of the standard trappings of the genre. While the plot has been done many times before, the film presents the story in a fresh way. Most of the story is told in flashback by Ng, and shows both the brutality of the Triad gangs and the overglamorization of the lifestyle present in most movies (ironically, in films like Young and Dangerous). Ng's flashbacks themselves also figure heavily into the style of the film. As with Too Many Ways to Be Number One, the film presents the same story with different views.

One telling scene has a "valiant" Triad member fighting off a group of attackers, when we see that it is actually a scene from a comic book that Kwan is reading on the toilet. Running out of toilet paper, Kwan uses one of the comic's pages to wipe himself. On the surface, it's quite a funny scene. But if you look beyond what is on the screen, the scene actually has a lot of symbolism to it, such as the fact that Young and Dangerous itself was based on a comic book and used comic book illustrations in the film. It's not too often that a Triad film can make you think like that.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 02/05/2002
Summary: Not good

As Sydneyguy pretty much said really. There was too much of a 'Y&D' feeling to it, the youngsters trying to be gangsters.

Rating: 2/5

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 01/03/2002

This movie completely blew me away! What a wonderful, truly inspired performance by Francis Ng, who takes the character of ugly Kwan from the first Y&D movie and turns it into perhaps the most memorable characterization of a triad ever presented in a HK movie.

Make no mistake, stylistically this movie has nothing in common at all with the various Y&D offshoots. No pretty boys with long hair here! Instead, the triad world is presented with a degree of cold cynicism that rips all the various movie cliches about righteousness etc to shreds. In tone, this was closer to Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone, except that this movie goes a few steps beyond that one.

The story starts with a quick ironic deconstruction of the various triad myths, showing them only to then reveal that what you are watching is a depiction of a comic that Francis is reading. You then get to see what it's really like, with Kwan in short order attempting to rape a girl, kill her father and then selling her to a mideast brothel. All this is presented as black comedy. Shortly thereafter, Kwan gets shot, and while lying on a hospital gurney fighting for his life, his voiceover starts introducing the viewer to his life story, which makes up the remainder of the movie. I don't want to give anything away here, other than to say not everything presented should be believed and that the movie may have been inspiration for Milkyway's Too many ways to be Number One.

I strongly recommend this movie. It's definitely one of the most interesting and entertaining HK movies I've seen lately.

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 12/14/2001
Summary: Very black comedy that works well

ONCE UPON A TIME IN TRIAD SOCIETY - Often claimed to be a prequel to Young & Dangerous focusing on Francis Ng's Ugly Kwan character, though I think there is sufficient evidence in the movie that the Kwan played here is not the same Kwan as in Y&D, although he is certainly a very similar character. The movie shows how Kwan ended up as the bad ass Triad boss despite being a terribly sweet guy in his youth with nothing but the best of ideals... and then it shows us what *really* happened :D. A very smart movie, spoofing the Triad genre cleverly and hilariously. The whole movie basically hinges on Francis Ng's performance, which is absolutely spot on as you would expect. It occured to me that it's actually pretty rare to have a movie where the main character is such a complete bastard, but it is probably something that should be done more often! The production values on the movie seem to be relatively high, so I'm surprised it has been cursed with a VCD only release... perhaps the local audiences simply weren't interested in it? I think that anybody who appreciates a dark comedy and a good piece of Francis Ng should definitely pick it up though... the VCD is quite watchable by VCD standards.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 02/12/2001
Summary: Ummm.... not sure

I bought this movie with high expectations since others say this movie is great...........

Not sure how much i like this film. I like the interesting twist and it does have it's funny moments. How Francis Ng's character gets away with what his does is unbelieveable (in a good way).
Still not sure how to rate this but
abover average for now..........

Reviewed by: SBates
Date: 02/06/2001
Summary: Rough around the edges

This was a very rough, somewhat sloppy quickie, but it was interesting that the creators tried to forge new ground in the Triad genre. I am always impressed by films that succeed despite their obvious meager means, and although this is not a totally successful film, it is certainly worth seeing. It does run on a little long, but its innovative story construction, much imitated since, is reason enough to recommend it. In my opinion, TOO MANY WAYS TO BE NO 1, though obviously indebted to this film, and not a great film in its own right, is a little more cohesive, with a sharper sense of humor, and therefore I give it higher marks.

Reviewed by: jfierro
Date: 12/21/1999

Ingenious variation on the Triad Boyz genre of 1996. Instead of glamorizing triad life with the usual assortment of pretty boys, this film tells it from the point of view of the evil Leck Kwan (Francis Ng, elaborating on his character from Young and Dangerous). Not only do we get to see all of Leck Kwan's outright viciousness, but we get to hear him justify his brutality. Through flashbacks, we listen as he explains that it was the betrayal by those closest to him that made him the monster he is today. But screenwriter Chung Kai-Cheung isn't going to let the Leck Kwan off that easy, as he develops a fully realized three-dimensional character that you don't know whether to sympathize with or detest. And it's all made possible by Francis Ng's career-defining performance. He throws caution to the wind and stays true to the character, in all his wonderfully horrifying ugliness. After watching this film, the other films in this genre will seem downright ludicrous, with their simplified view of ganster life. Remarkably, the sequel to this film is even better. The two films together serve as a complete deconstruction of this overblown genre. A true miracle of HK filmmaking.

Reviewed by: shelly
Date: 12/09/1999

It's fascinating to watch how fast and how confidently the TriadBoyz genre is developing. Here's an unofficial sequel to Young and Dangerous 1 that has already spawned its own sequel (OUTTS 2). And the formula doesn't sit still: OUTTS takes the point of view (or multiple points of view) of very very bad guy Kwan, arguably the star of Y&D 1. Francis Ng's performance as Kwan is a tour de force. In this Rashomon-like fractured narrative, Ng creates a prodigiously varied number of takes on Kwan the Triad scum: you loathe him, you sympathise with him, you're along for the ride, possibly against your better judgment. And how to respond to his two worst crimes, murders filmed for their jolt value: are they sick farce? cynical butchery? or maybe somehow both. The supporting roles are weakly cast, but OUTTS recoups with jazzy, effervescent photography and lots of raw on-the-streets settings.

Reviewer Score: 7