(L-R) Benjamin Yuen, Yu Ka-Ho, Nicholas Tse and Sam Lee in "Young and Dangerous: The Prequel" (1998)

25 Years Later: Young and Dangerous: The Prequel 新古惑仔之少年激鬥篇 (1998)

In the space of two years between 1996 and 1998, Andrew Lau has churned out five Young and Dangerous <古惑仔> movies to varying degrees of box-office success. And over four months later after Young and Dangerous 5 <98古惑仔之龍爭虎鬥> was released earlier in 1998, Lau took a detour to go back to where it all begins in the form of a prequel.

Not just a mere prequel that follows the stylish template of the Ekin Cheng-led Young and Dangerous <古惑仔> since Young and Dangerous: The Prequel <新古惑仔之少年激鬥篇> marks a departure from the usual norm. The kind that is unexpectedly raw and grounded in the way Lau and regular screenwriter Manfred Wong chose to depict their triad story. Since the de-ageing effect has yet to exist to make Ekin Cheng looks like a teenager, Lau enlisted then-17-year-old newcomer Nicholas Tse to play the young Chan Ho-Nam. We first saw Ho Nam and his school buddies, Pou-Pan (Yu Ka-Ho) and Chou-Pan (Benjamin Yuen) being bullied by Ugly Kwan’s (Francis Ng) men. It wasn’t until Brother Bee (Frankie Ng Chi-Hung) from the Hung Hing society come to the rescue.

After Ho Nam and his buddies caused a stir over their controversial song competition that doesn’t sit well with the headmaster (Lim Chan Sek-Lim), they end up getting expelled from school. They decide to join Brother Bee, with Ho Nam slowly rising through the ranks and proving his worth as a Hung Hing triad member. Among them includes Ho Nam dealing with his rival, Piggy (Ricky Ho Pui-Tung, best known for his roles in Gangs <童黨> and School on Fire <學校風雲> in 1988) and helps Brother Bee settle a score against Bill (Ricky Yi Fan-Wai).

The prequel also introduces Chicken (Sam Lee playing the younger version of Jordan Chan’s iconic role) and cameo appearances from Sandra Ng and Kristy Yeung, both of which appeared in the Young and Dangerous <古惑仔> spin-off, Portland Street Blues <古惑仔情義篇之洪興十三妹>.

Nicholas Tse, who won Best New Performer at the Hong Kong Film Awards, delivers an engaging performance as the rebellious Chan Ho-Nam. Tse also proved to be a highly dedicated actor to the point he was reportedly willing to continue shooting after one of the gang fight scenes ended up with him suffering from a foot injury. He chose to soldier on until the filming was over before he was sent to the hospital. His hard work certainly paid off at the end of the day and after winning his first Hong Kong Film Award, he would go on to star in numerous high-profile Hong Kong films.

Tse’s co-stars, notably then-fellow newcomer Daniel Wu and Sam Lee give respectively solid supporting turns as Big Head and Chicken. The three would go on to appear together in the big-budget Gen-X Cops <特警新人類> in the following year. Another newcomer, Benjamin Yuen, who plays Chou-Pan does an adequate job playing one of Ho Nam’s school buddies-turned-triad members. He may appear in a few movies ever since but it wasn’t until after he won Mr Hong Kong in 2007, his career only gradually took off when he acted in numerous TVB series.

Francis Ng, who reprised one of his famous roles as Ugly Kwan, surprisingly doesn’t overact like he did the first time around in the first Young and Dangerous <古惑仔之人在江湖>. His restrained performance may look as if it was an out-of-character mistake but it actually fits well with the realistic tone of the prequel. Frankie Ng Chi-Hung is equally praiseworthy as the righteous and father figure-like Brother Bee while Michael Chan Wai-Man made the best use of his limited screentime as the rival Tung Sing triad boss, Camel Lok.

Unlike the more stylised approach in the Young and Dangerous <古惑仔> movies, Lau made use of the Category III rating (just don’t expect School on Fire <學校風雲>) in terms of depicting its triad violence. The gang fights are significantly brutal and straightforward which is less Andrew Lau’s distinct visual style but looks more like the director emulating Ringo Lam’s gritty filmmaking approach. The recurring triad theme may have been overused by the time the prequel arrived back in 1998. But credits still go to Lau and Manfred Wong for giving us an overall substantial and well-acted trial drama.

Shame the prequel failed to re-capture the box-office glory that the Young and Dangerous <古惑仔> movies have made. It could only muster a paltry HK$2.3 million — a far cry from some of the Young and Dangerous <古惑仔> films that grossed between HK$22 million and HK$12.8 million.

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