It goes without saying the key selling point for the HK$350 million epic crime drama The Goldfinger <金手指> is the much-anticipated reunion of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Andy Lau. And it has been twenty years since they last appeared together in Infernal Affairs <無間道>.
Whereas the latter saw Tony Leung Chiu-Wai playing an undercover cop and Andy Lau as a mole in the police force secretly working for the triad, it was the flip side of the coin for the two veteran actors switching sides to portray an antagonist and a protagonist in The Goldfinger <金手指>.
Loosely based on the Carrian Group scandal in the early 1980s, Leung plays Henry Ching Yat-Yin — whose role is inspired by real-life businessman and founder George Tan — arriving in Hong Kong by boat in the 1970s. Desperately looking for a job in the engineering field, only to have his dream dashed, he finally gets lucky after stumbling upon real estate developer K.K. Tsang (Simon Yam). They work together to make money in the property market, where Ching successfully scams an investor played by Tai Bo.
They continue to reap big profits as they usher the new era and this time, it’s coming from the result of stock market manipulation with the help of a stockbroker (Michael Ning). Senior ICAC investigator Lau Kai-Yuen (Andy Lau) subsequently enters the picture to investigate Ching’s elaborate scheme as he determines to bring him to justice.
This isn’t the first time writer-director Felix Chong explored financial crimes, which can be seen in his first two Overheard <竊聽風雲> films. Chong’s narrative approach echoes the non-linear structure of his 2018 award-winning Project Gutenberg <無雙>. At one point, the movie also emulates the latter’s unreliable narration, detailing Ching’s larger-than-life past except it was unfortunately played as awkwardly misplaced laughs.
Chong’s attempt to sustain audiences’ interest through multiple narrative jumps, going back and forth between the ICAC’s interrogations with Ching and his associates (among them played by Charlene Choi and Carlos Chan) in separate rooms and flashback-heavy moments, is surprisingly hollow.
The biggest problem in Chong’s direction lies in his rigidness of keeping it “real” to the point everything feels muted. Part of his storytelling method does evoke Martin Scorsese’s films, notably The Wolf of Wall Street and to a certain extent, Goodfellas, albeit relatively tame. Imagine if this movie is made during British-era Hong Kong instead.
The movie’s rise and fall of Ching’s business empire simply coasts along while lacking the much-needed dramatic stakes to elevate the storyline. The same also goes for his hasty rags-to-riches story angle. Chong’s choices of songs and some of the showy visuals and montage, in the meantime, are mixed bags.
The otherwise determined Lau in his decade-long ICAC investigation to put away Ching for good feels mundane. It doesn’t help either when the ICAC and even the police force are portrayed as saints and righteous law enforcers. Given the movie’s setting during the turbulent 1970s-80s Hong Kong era and regardless of the strict Chinese censors, it simply stretches believability to convince me this actually happened at the time.
Leung brings his usual charisma to his role as Ching and he certainly has a field day playing an antagonist driven by greed and excess. And yet, casting someone as legendary and talented as Leung, I was expecting a more substantial character development from Chong’s screenplay. Andy Lau is adequate but could have been better in his supporting turn as the dedicated ICAC investigator, Lau. Their verbal confrontations showcase some decent moments, just not at the same level of expectation seen in Infernal Affairs <無間道>.
As for the rest of the cast, Charlene Choi is largely (no pun intended) undermined as Ching’s busty personal assistant. Michael Ning and Tai Bo alongside Alex Fong and Carlos Chan, where the latter two play Ching’s solicitor and wealthy heir respectively, all deliver sufficient support.
The Goldfinger <金手指> benefits from Lam Chi-Kiu’s production design and Anthony Pun’s cinematography which successfully captures the nostalgic look and feel of the 1970-80s Hong Kong. The costume design deserves equal mention while Chin Ka-Lok’s action direction is nothing much to write home about. The action is mostly confined to the single major set piece that takes place in the parking lot and frankly, it feels more like an afterthought.