COLOUR OF THE GAME (2017) review

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A belated third installment in Wong Jing’s ‘Colour’ series of Triad thriller – after Colour of the Truth (2003) and Colour of the Loyalty (2005) – Wai Ka Fai’s Colour of the Game centers on Dahua (Simon Yam), a weary Triad enforcer who’s given one last mission before retirement: to find and kill the degenerate son of gangster Brother Nine (Waise Lee), Robert (Ye Xiangming), who raped and killed Triad boss Dragon (Lau Siu Ming). Dahua enlists the help of his old comrades in arms Chun (Jordan Chan), fresh out of prison, and BBQ, retired with a bad leg but willing to assist his brother one last time, as well as Gao (Philip Ng), his protégé, Liqiang (Sabrina Qiu), his tough daughter, and Superman (Oscar Leung), a newcomer eager to prove his worth. The team gets to work, but as they’re being repeatedly ambushed by Robert’s men and followed closely by the police, they soon realize there’s a mole among them.

Garnering a lot of good will simply by being part of a beloved film genre now going extinct, the Hong Kong Triad thriller, and by being full of its familiar faces (had it been made even 15 years ago, this film might have had the exact same cast), Colour of the Game feels both resolutely average, and endearingly old-fashioned. An understated elegiac tone pervades it, never more affecting than when reflected in Simon Yam’s soulful, tired eyes; indeed the beloved Hong Kong veteran is the film’s soul, and his tough and gentle performance is what lingers in the mind after the credits roll.

His chemistry with the fine supporting cast is flawless but that’s hardly surprising: it’s his 4th film with Jordan Chan (here reliably excellent in a role he knows like the back of his hand, the loyal, big-hearted hothead), his 5th with Philip Ng (quite solid), his 7th with Waise Lee (overacting deliciously like it’s still 1993), his 11th with Lau Siu Ming (a welcome sight, as he’s been understandably scarcer in the 2010s), his 12th with Eddie Cheung (ever-reliable though underused), and his 35th with Lam Suet (who gets one memorable scene to out-eat all his previous characters). Newcomer Sabrina Qiu admirably manages to hold her own next to these veterans.

Double-crosses are a bit too plentiful though always easy to follow) and not always surprising, but a few offbeat touches and two action scenes, orchestrated by Philip Ng, enliven the rather slow-burning narrative: an explosive ambush marred by ugly CGI explosions, and a solid alleyway finale that ends with a superbly brutal, well-choreographed fight between Ng’s character and a rival enforcer. In the end, Colour of the Game feels like it could have been something truly special in the more assured hands of, say, Johnnie To. But as it is, it’s an entertaining and welcome anachronism.

Long Story Short: A routine but well-acted and affectingly elegiac Triad thriller. ***

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