Review: PROTEGE 門徒 (2007) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Review: PROTEGE 門徒 (2007)

Review: PROTEGE 門徒 (2007)

For seven long years, Nick (Daniel Wu) has gone undercover who managed Kwan's (Andy Lau) drug handlers but yet arresting him because he is unable to infiltrate Kwan's entire heroin operation and doesn't even know where the drugs come from, or where they are made. However, Kwan's health is declining these days especially when he's suffered from diabetes. He's looking forward to retirement and wanted Nick to become his successor because he's totally believing in him. Soon Kwan shows him all the tricks and trades, starting from the laboratory how the drugs are packaged and delivered and right down to its main source in the Golden Triangle, as well as introducing some of his loyal big clients. Such steps have enabled Nick to come so close to put out Kwan and his operation once and for all but Nick starts to hesitate to do so because he's unable to betray Kwan who trusted him very much. And that's part of Nick's problem. At home where Nick lives in a rundown apartment, he meets Fan (Zhang Jingchu) and her little daughter across the building in which they are suffered from hunger. Soon Nick helps them providing food and money. As their relationship grows closer, he learns that Fan has been long struggling with heroin addiction and desperately wanted to quit but unable to do so, especially when her loathsome husband (Louis Koo), also a drug addict comes back to mess up her life. 

REVIEW: Derek Yee's much-hyped anti-drug crime drama, PROTEGE, isn't as fulfilling as it touted to be but as far as any Hong Kong movie goes, this one manages to stand above-average effort.  

The downside of the story is awfully familiar territory, especially that the movie borrows primarily from the often-copied INFERNAL AFFAIRS. Derek Yee's screenplay is earnest, as he clearly wanted to press hard on the topical issue of an anti-drug message but the result is more educational, at times preachy rather than compelling subject matter. It's also a pity that PROTEGE, which has widely tipped as Hong Kong's answer to both Steven Soderbergh's TRAFFIC and Mike Newell's DONNIE BRASCO all rolled into one, is entirely half-baked.

Still, Yee has a knack to make a generic material into something worthwhile. Here Yee manages to deliver all the issue about the drug trade and addiction in a satisfying cinematic form, yet remains interesting to watch for. On the other side, Yee also knows well how to build up the dramatic tension with equal aplomb. This is especially evident in a showstopping set piece where Nick is cornered by a group of renegade customs officers (led by the ever-dependable Liu Kai-Chi) and followed by a frantic bust by the customs officers to raid the building where the drugs are packaged. The result is wildly intense and expertly staged with a hint of black comedy (the one where one of Kwan's men is stupid enough jumping through the window and falls to his death) and surprisingly burst of violence (the character of Liu Kai-Chi loses his hand when he attempts to open the door).

And thanks to Yee's ever-sensitive commitment, the all-star cast are downright noteworthy. While Andy Lau's cool and calculating persona is really nothing to shout about, he has his moments especially in a darkly hilarious commentary when he explains to Nick that he's selling drugs because it's all strictly business to him, and has nothing to do whatsoever how those who gets abused from the drugs they buy. Daniel Wu is equally compelling with one of his better performances as the conflicted undercover cop who must choose between loyalty and justice. But the real deal here is Zhang Jingchu's raw, award-worthy and often devastating performance as the struggling drug addict. In one of the movie's memorable moments, she is seen satisfying herself by taking a heroin shot, goes completely high and fulfilling her orgasm making love with the unsuspecting Nick on the couch.

Unfortunately, Louis Koo is sadly miscast in his first-ever role as a drug addict which sees him ditching his usual cool image in trade for dirtied-up looks and a set of false, stained teeth. His frequently overacting often resulted into more unexpected laugh than it should be. Anita Yuen, in the meantime, is neglected to a thankless role as Kwan's concerned wife. 

Derek Yee's highly anticipated anti-drug crime drama of PROTEGE is a familiar genre territory, but still benefits from a mostly fine ensemble cast and equally tense direction.

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