Directed by 'Johnny' Wang Lung-wei, Hong Kong Godfather has been available on DVD as a poor quality (and edited) bootleg from Bonzai Media but receives its first official DVD release in a nicely restored uncut transfer from Funimation, who have picked up some of the Shaw Brothers titles that BCI was going to release before they folded. But all's well that ends well right? Fans waited a long time for this release, but it's here and the film definitely delivers everything that its reputation suggests.
The film is centered around a few different characters in a triad gang lead by Uncle Han (Shek Kin), a kind if aged man who treats his employees well and enjoys spending time with his grandson. One of his former higher ups, Wei (Leung Kar-yan), has more or less retired from the gang to spend more time with his daughter since the death of his wife. Formerly known as Mad Dog Wei, he's hoping to lead a quiet life. On the flip side of that coin is Playboy Lung (Norman Chu), a ladies' man with a permed mullet/rattail hair cut that has to be seen to be believed. He's living the good life working for Uncle Han and making time with as many girls as he can.
Things are going swimmingly for Han's clan until a rival gangster (Pomson Shi), a young ambitious man, goes gunning for Han's turf. It seems that someone in the gang has betrayed Uncle Han, and when things heat up and get really dangerous, Han's crew, with some help from a cop in their service named Sergeant Wen (Richard Cheung Kuen), will have to face their ambitious foes in a battle to the death.
Hong Kong Godfather doesn't really do much to break any new ground in terms of storytelling or plot. It's quite a simple tale of revenge and fairly predictable at that. What it has going for it, however, are some surprisingly sleazy set pieces, a few standout performances, eighties camp value and gore galore. It takes forty-five minutes or so to get there, but once the film hits its middle point, all bets are off and no one is safe. Arms are severed from their torsos, necks are sliced open, bodies fall from stairs and even escalators and, in one of the film's many memorable moments, a poor unlucky kid gets his ass tossed out of a plate glass window. Rarely has a film delivered so many cleaver fights with such gusto!
As far as the cast goes, they make the most of the material. Shek Kin excels at playing the noble old guard of the triad society, a man of honor who treats his best workers like family and who lives by a certain code. He contrasts nicely with the young upstart played by Pomson Shi, who is more of a go-getter and an aggressive type who cares less about morals than about profit and greed. The highlights, however, are Leung Kar-yan as Mad Dog Wei and Norman Chu as Playboy Lung. Wei is played closer to Shek Kin's character, which makes sense as he was once his right hand man, while Chu's Lung provides a bit more comic relief as the promiscuous but fiercely loyal philanderer. The actors all suit their roles really well and fit the material like a glove.
The film's violence is, in many ways, completely over the top and entirely gratuitous but in the context of the story being told, it isn't at all out of place - it's also handled fairly realistically. When characters get attacked, they bleed and sometimes they die, they don't run up tiny ramps or manage to always get out of the way. This helps ramp up the tension in the film, as you really can't predict who is going to make it out of this mess alive. These larger than life characters inhabit a violent world and the filmmaking reflects that. As the plot builds to its predictable though inevitable conclusion, it's hard not to get sucked into all the chaos as it unfolds. Despite a few pacing problems early on, Hong Kong Godfather is completely enthralling and more than a little insane.
Hong Kong Godfather arrives on DVD in a progressive scan anamorphic 1.78.1 widescreen transfer that has to be slightly cropped from the film's original 1.85.1 aspect ratio but which really doesn't look tight or off kilter at all. Generally this is a strong effort from Funimation. A little bit of print damage shows up here and there but otherwise the source material used for this disc has been very nicely restored. Colors are bright and bold and garish in the way that eighties era Hong Kong films can be (which is a good thing, mind you) and detail levels are generally very strong. What looks to be some mild edge enhancement pops up here and there but aliasing and compression artifacts are never a problem. There's really very little room to complain here and it's safe to say that this obscure Shaw Brothers oddity has never looked better.
The Cantonese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track on this disc sounds more like a mono but it's well balanced and easy to follow. The optional English subtitles, which cover the text screens and the closing sponsors that appear in the end credits, are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. The score sounds good, never overpowering the performers, while the sound effects are presented at the proper volume as well. It's not a track that will amaze you, but it definitely sounds as good as it needs to. A 5.1 track might have been fun, especially during the zany last half hour, but what's here is good.
Extras are disappointingly light, limited to a few trailers for unrelated Funimation releases and a forced promo spot for their Shaw Brothers line that plays before you can get to the main menu screen (which also offers chapter selection).
Hong Kong Godfather starts off a little slow but once it picks up, it turns out to be pretty amazing stuff. While the plot may be no great shakes, it's chock full of trashy sex and radical bloodshed and if the eighties fashions and styles add loads of unintentional camp value, so be it. The film is actually rather well acted and directed and if nothing else, it's wildly entertaining. Funimation's DVD release is light on extras but it looks and sounds quite good and presents the film in its uncut form. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.