'Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch' ('Jeui lung II: Chaak wong'): Film Review

Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch Still 2 - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Mega-Vision Project Workshop Limited
A goofier, more focused step-up from its predecessor.

Tony Leung and Louis Koo star in co-directors Wong Jing and Jason Kwok’s follow-up to 'Chasing the Dragon.'

Exploitation maestro Wong Jing returns to the scene of the crime he committed in 2016 in Chasing the Dragon, likely looking for a repeat of that moderate success (almost $100 million, mostly in China) with a similarly inspired-by-real-events crime drama, Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch. The closest the film comes to referencing Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 classic The Wild Bunch is setting the story in the waning days of Hong Kong’s colony status, when it was still something of a wild west. Based on a series of kidnappings in the city — of major property tycoons, Macanese casino moguls and their children — in the late-1990s by infamous gangster Cheung Tze-keung, Wild Wild Bunch lands in Hong Kong just as the city is wrestling with a controversial extradition law.

The real Cheung, a Hong Kong resident, was tried and executed in China in 1998 — just a year after the handover — and so the case stoked fears the SAR’s legal autonomy was already under threat. The old story’s sudden currency combined with a starry cast should propel the film toward respectable business at home, while three police forces coming together to save the day should please the same Chinese audiences that responded to the first film. Elsewhere, Wild Wild Bunch is destined for niche numbers, though this quasi-sequel is moderately better than its predecessor for its lighter touch and its willingness to occasionally embrace its silliness.

The action starts in pre-handover 1996, with a précis of gangster Logan Long (Tony Leung) and his gang’s rise through the criminal underworld, policed by lax British overlords, though those days are coming to an end. Logan’s gang is made up of his “family,” among them the reckless kid brother Farrell (Ye Xiangming), a devoted sex kitten decoy called, seriously, Bunny (Sabrina Qiu), and left- and right-hand men Doc (Lam Ka-tung) and Zhuge (Wai Ka-hung). They’ve made so much money with their kidnapping scheme they build installation art out of thousand-dollar bills and lounge on its massive stacks in bathrobes.

On the right side of the law, the Hong Kong police’s Inspector Li (Simon Yam) comes to explosives expert Sky He (Louis Koo, still eerily flawless and/or ageless) with a proposition. Join him and mainland counterpart Zhou (Du Jiang) to infiltrate, investigate and bust Long as Li’s last great sting before retirement (for once not meaning what it usually means). He initially resists, but winds up in an illegal casino then a jail cell as a way to start getting close to Long and his wild bunch. From here the film takes a fairly straight path to its inevitable conclusion

Yes, the conclusion is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch lacks the occasional detour into genuine tension — a silent bomb-defusing sequence is one of the most white-knuckled of the year so far in any language — and flashes of hokey fun (as soon as Michael Wong shows up, the games begin). After a clunky first act loaded up with exposition, the pic settles into an efficient rhythm, teasing out the narrative strands and dropping enough hints to keep things moving forward. As co-directors, Wong and returning partner Jason Kwan mine the material for what few throwaway gags there are and give the action a bump with personalized bomb threats. Where the first entry didn’t really hold a candle to the original police corruption dramas Lee Rock and To Be Number One it was a remake of, Wild Wild Bunch has more going for it than the few films that have already covered the subject (as one of three notorious criminals, Cheung’s appearance in Trivisa doesn’t count). Wong, Lui Koon-nam and Chan Kin-hung’s script moves at a frantic pace that often puts precedence in action, but by the same token it’s free of the bloat that afflicted the first movie.

With the exception of some execrable Cantopop on the soundtrack this time around, the film does a fine job on the technical side; editor Li Ka-wing chips in by trimming the fat to the bone, and production designer Li Tsz-fung and costume designer Cindy Cheung recreate the ugliest part of the '90s without going overboard. But it’s the entertaining scenery-chewing by the top-flight cast that carries the pic; each of the main actors far better than the material they’re working with. Leung leans into his elder statesman status with the perfect amount of fatigue that morphs into defiant rage at the thought of losing his money. And perpetual scene-stealer Lam effortlessly shades Doc with nuance, giving every side-eye added meaning.

The castmember least served by the script is Qiu as the requisite jiggly eye candy. With few exceptions, Wong has never put much stock in women with agency and clothing that fits, and it’s not surprising to see he hasn’t given that up, even in a Time’s Up world. But then again, it wouldn’t really be a Wong Jing joint without it.

Production companies: Mega-Vision Project Workshop Limited, Bona Film Group, Alibaba Pictures
U.S. distributor: Well Go USA
Cast: Tony Leung Ka-fai, Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Candice Yu, Gordon Lam, Du Jiang, Sabrina Qiu, Wai Ka-hung, Ye Xiangming, Jason Wong
Directors: Jason Kwan, Wong Jing
Screenwriters: Lui Koon-nam, Wong Jing, Chan Kin-hung
Producers: Wong Jing, Shirley Yeung, Jiang De-Fu
Executive producers: Wong Jing, Yu Dong, Fan Luyuen
Directors of photography: Jason Kwan, Jimmy Kwok
Production designer: Li Tsz-fung
Costume designer: Cindy Cheung
Editors: Li Ka-wing, Sin Man-chiu
Music: Day Tai-wai
World sales:
Mega-Vision Project Workshop

In Cantonese