(L-R) Lam Ka-Tung, Aaron Kwok and Richie Jen in "Rob N Roll" (2024)

Rob N Roll 臨時劫案 (2024) Review

While the attention mostly goes to Aaron Kwok de-glamorising himself to play a buck-toothed criminal, I’m more interested in Albert Mak (Kai-Kwong) being the director of Rob N Roll <臨時劫案>.

Sure, Albert Mak is barely a household name. But he used to work as an assistant director and executive director for notable Milkyway productions from Beyond Hypothermia <攝氏32度> to Running on Karma <大隻佬>, Life Without Principle <奪命金> and Drug War <毒戰>.

Mak, who also co-wrote alongside Drug War <毒戰> screenwriter Ryker Chan and Man Uen-Ching, previously served as the second assistant director for last year’s Mad Fate <命案>, tells an interconnected story revolving around multiple characters. First, we learn that best friends Fai (Richie Jen) and Robby (Lam Ka-Tung) are both cash-strapped. The former, who runs a nursing home, is heavily in debt while the latter barely makes ends meet as a taxi driver, especially since his wife (Nancy Wu) is now heavily pregnant.

The story also introduces Mui Lam-Tin (Aaron Kwok), a professional wrestler-turned-bandit who pulls off a major heist in a money exchange store with his two henchmen. The police are hot on his heels including veteran police detective Ginger (Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee) and her rookie partner, Fisher (Leung Chung-Hang).

Then, there’s Nam (John Chiang, Jr.) committing a robbery at a small money exchange shop, which coincidentally happens simultaneously with the heist. Things get complicated when Lam-Tin’s stolen cash somehow ends up in Robby’s taxi, prompting the former to track him down at all costs.

Mak keeps things moving at a brisk pace, notably during the engaging first act. He successfully navigates each character’s predicaments and parallel storytelling with a mix of gritty and quirky crime-comedy tones.

He doesn’t shy away from some graphic violence, which at one point, we see a character’s finger get shot off. The action may have been taking a backseat here but Mak still manages to stage some gripping and well-choreographed set pieces with the help of veteran action director/choreographer Jack Wong Wai-Leung. The opening gunfight in the middle of Temple Street and the subsequent school bus getaway, for instance, are worth mentioning here.

The overall story and introductions of various characters with vastly different personality traits remind me of a Milkyway-style genre movie. We have middle-aged losers in the form of Richie Jen’s Fai and Lam Ka-Tung’s Robby, who can’t seem to catch a break other than facing one misfortune after another. The two deserve credit for playing down-on-their-luck characters well. Let’s not forget about the scene-stealing Aaron Kwok, whose sleazy and buck-toothed appearance brings a darkly comedic touch to his otherwise vicious role as a bandit.

The movie even features Lam Suet in a familiar Milkyway-style side character serving as a comic relief. Despite the predominantly male-centric cast, Mak doesn’t forget to leave ample room for female characters to shine in their respective roles. This includes Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee’s dogged policewoman Ginger and Nancy Wu’s cranky pregnant wife character who has to put up with her husband’s mother-in-law played by Paw Hee-Ching.

Unfortunately, not every character leaves a lasting impression here, namely John Chiang, Jr. and Kathy Wong, where the latter plays the character working at the small money exchange shop. The eventual payoff isn’t as thrilling as I expected it to be, albeit with some entertaining set pieces. But the obligatory crime-must-pay angle (read:  appeasing Chinese censors) somehow diluted the otherwise ambitious bleak and offbeat genre mishmash in Rob N Roll <臨時劫案>.

Still, as one of the first Lunar New Year movies released in the Year of the Dragon 2024, it’s nice to see such a dark comedy like Rob N Roll <臨時劫案> for a change during the festive season.

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