Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Delinquent with Lily Li

1973's The Delinquent is another Chang Cheh-codirected feature starring Wong Chung and Lily Li. This tale of gangs in modern Hong Kong begins with a very dated/very trippy credits sequence with Wong Chung bursting through cardboard backdrops of the city of Hong Kong with wild negative lighting warping the picture.

The film opens with Wong Chung delivering food from a restaurant to a place on Temple Street. The street scenes of 1973 Hong Kong are a treat but there are too many close-ups to get a sense of place. The food is delivered to a martial arts school in an apartment and John (Wong Chung) has to try his hand at it again -- seems he took kung fu lessons but quit sometime earlier.

John goes home to his small apartment and his dad berates him. Codirector Kuei Chih Hung could be the reason that the early scenes in this film don't feel too much like another Chang Cheh film. Yes, there's the emphasis on a man's place in the world -- machismo and all that jazz -- but the early scenes here feel quite naturalistic despite bursts of music or a telegraphed melodramatic moment.

Fan Mei Shang is some kind of gang boss who bullies the same kids who are bullying John at his restaurant -- there's some fights in a junkyard but they are largely uninteresting -- and the gang boss spends his time with hookers in dayglo clothes as he gives orders to his gang.

In a scene like something out of a Hollywood film of the 1930s, Tung Lam and Betty Tei Pei pull up in a sportscar as Wong Chung is fighting in the street. They observe the boy and make plans to woo him with a girl and money -- for what, we in the audience don't quite know yet. It's silly but The Delinquent is frequently silly in its attempts to say something "Big" about the state of youth in 1973 Hong Kong.

Fan Mei Shang takes the kid to a brothel and there's a fair amount of nudity in this scene which is otherwise laughable -- we see the guy's father sitting at home waiting for the kid even as he's in a garish apartment whorehouse with some Chinese hooker. It's a riot of 1970s conventions in this flick.

It turns out that John's dad works for Tung Lam and so Fan Mei Shang has been tasked to recruit the boy to settle some score.

There's more fighting and a dirtbike fight/chase on a beach. The kid gets arrested, his dad won't bail him out, and some gangsters wearing suits out of Dick Tracy (1990) show up to rough up Fan Mei Shang.

The second half of the film turns largely dramatic as John gets further involved with the gang lifestyle but rest assured there are still more fights to be endured.

Really, The Delinquent bored the crap out of me; not campy enough to be 1970s fun and not realistic enough to be watched with a straight face, this was a case of 100 minutes feeling like 300.

And Lily Li is in this thing for less than 10 minutes. I guess Chang Cheh has plenty of time for a nude scene with some unknown actress playing a hooker but not enough time to give Lily something to do in her small part.

No, this is a guy's film and while that could work for me, here it didn't. The action just felt tired and drab.

Sure, Wong Chung's final assault on the apartment brothel had some intensity to it but, by that point, I didn't really care who survived the brutality.

Without giving away the ending, I did like the very final segment of the film where the 1970s techniques seemed to match the action unfolding on the screen but, by then, it was too late to win me over.

You can order The Delinquent on DVD here.