Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Schlock Hong Kong director Wong Jing, like a reformed gangster, tries to turn legitimate with this sleek looking film set in early 20th century Shanghai. Starring Chow Yuen Fatt, Sammo Hung and produced by Andrew Lau of ‘Infernal Affairs’, it tries to update ideas from '80s Hong Kong TV and film series, but throws in bits culled from other films, such as ‘Casablanca’ and Tarantino's ‘Inglorious Basterds’, resulting in a concoction that is just overwrought and tastes far too familiar to be interesting.
The story revolves around Shanghai mob boss Chen DaiQi and his rise from humble beginnings. The movie is told in two timelines; Chow Yuen Fatt is the older Chen in Shanghai just before the Japanese invasion, while playing Chen in his younger years is Huang Xiaoming. The younger Chen is framed for a murder, but escapes with the help of army officer Mao Zai (Francis Ng), separating from his lover Ye ZhiQiu (Joyce Feng/Yolanda Yuan).
Chen flees his village to move to Shanghai and starts out as a hoodlum. He crosses paths with gang leader Hong Shouting (Sammo Hong) and becomes a disciple of Hong. Chen quickly climbs up the ranks and becomes sworn brothers to Hong. Meanwhile, he bumps into old flame, Ye, now married to someone else. With the Japanese on the brink on invading China, Ma Zhi becomes a turncoat, and Chen's position in the criminal underworld is threatened, but the gangster decides to strike back at the Japanese and Ma Zhi.
While a handsome looking project and good special effects, ‘The Last Tycoon’ is otherwise a mess. Wong Jing has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and throws in everything he can into the film. Gangster clichés culled from John Woo (including a shootout in a church), mob loyalties, spy shenanigans and a clumsily constructed love triangle are just part of the ingredients, but none are fully realised despite the almost two hour running time.
Chow smirks and squints throughout the film, but even he can't find prop up the film. Huang Xiaoming does a decent imitation of a younger version of Chow, even if he doesn't quite have the older actor's demeanour. Sammo Hung spends the latter part of the film clutching onto a rubber duckie after suffering a stroke, and doesn't quite rise about the supporting role he has. As the main villain, Francis Ng does what he can, but like all the characters in the film, he is also underdeveloped. The women fare worse, coming across as caricatures, from the self-sacrificing wives of both Chen and Hong.
The film builds up to a revisionist conclusion of the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, recalling the wild make believe of Tarantino's war epic, with none of the panache or inventiveness.
‘The Last Tycoon’ tries too hard to be epic, and with a constantly droning overwrought music score, tries to pummel you into submission. It may all look rather luxurious and elegant, but Wong Jing falls back into old habits, and the melodrama and copycat nature of the scenes just reminds you that ‘The Last Tycoon’ might be richly dressed, but underneath it's still the same old stuff from Wong.