Director – Felix Chong – 2023 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 126m
Director Felix Chong reunites his two Infernal Affairs stars for a lavish, if frequently incomprehensible, 1980s tale of cops and robbers, corruption and fraud – out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, January 5th 2024.
The experience of watching The Goldfinger is a lot like watching the classic Hollywood private eye movie The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946). There, you know that the hero is investigating a string of murders, and the narrative is completely engrossing, even for the viewer watching the film for the umpteenth time, yet it’s also impenetrable and incomprehensible. And so it is with The Goldfinger, which is based not on a novel but on a real life financial scandal.
Real life Hong Kong conglomerate The Carrian Group, founded in 1977 by one George Tan, expanded rapidly and made huge profits until it was declared bankrupt in 1983. The whole operation turned out to be mired in fraud. In the film, set in the late 1970s / early 1980s, the central character Ching (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is modelled on Tan, starting off penniless but wearing suits that look like a million dollars and blessed with an understanding of what’s required to gain people’s confidence, secure deals and make money.
Leung has long possessed a compelling quality in just about everything in which he’s appeared, and this film is no exception. Whatever that quality is that’s required to be successful in business and for the money to roll in, you believe that he has it. It’s hard to think of another actor that could do exactly what he does here.
He hooks up with businessman K.K. Tsang (Simon Yam) and before you know it Ching is making money hand over fist, hiring the attractive Charlene Choi as his P.A. paying her 8K a month (she thought she was applying for a regular secretarial job and initially questions if he’s paying her too much) and naming numerous subsidiary companies after her.
While all this is going on, Ching is being investigated by cop Lau Yet Yuen (Andy Lau) who works with the ICAC (the Hong Kong Police’s anti-corruption unit). Andy Lau is arguably not quite as charismatic as Tony Leung, but he nevertheless similarly possesses a larger than life, magnetic screen persona that’s turned him into one of the biggest screen stars of the Far East.
With writer-director Felix Chong’s career being famously boosted by his co-scripting Infernal Affairs (2002) – one of the handful of films which revived the flagging Hong Kong action film in the late 1990s and early 2000s and which pitted Tony Leung Chiu-wai against Andy Lau – The Goldfinger is being touted as a re-pairing of those two stars under him as director. (The film formed the basis of The Departed, Martin Scorsese, 2006).
And yet, for its first two thirds, Lau is given precious little to do, only really allotted any sort of substance by the script in the film’s final third, when the bad guys start trying to make his life impossible, e.g. crashing cars into the car in an underground car park in which his wife, daughter and grandson are seated.
Incomprehensible much of the narrative may be, but it’s also lavishly designed and succeed in spades on the level of eye-candy. With its two charismatic stars on the screen most of the time, particularly the ever watchable Tony Leung Chiu-wai, the whole thing proves strangely compelling throughout.
The Goldfinger previews from Saturday, December 30th 2023 and is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, January 5th 2024.