GOLDEN JOB (2018) review

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After a cameo in Da Peng’s Jianbing Man (2015) and a successful concert tour seemed to indicate the audience was ready for more of the Young and Dangerous quartet of Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Jerry Lamb, Michael Tse, here they are reunited for a whole film, for the first time in 20 years, since 1998’s Young and Dangerous 5. Their co-star in the latter film, Chin Ka Lok, here directs, choreographs the action and co-stars again. While Jason Chu, an original member of the Young and Dangerous gang, is nowhere to be seen, he will indeed star with Jordan Chan, Jerry Lamb and Michael Tse – but without Ekin Cheng – in Wilson Chin action thriller The Lonely War, while Ekin Cheng, Michael Tse and Jerry Lamb will appear together – without Jordan Chan and Jason Chu – in Lv Kejing’s fantasy thriller Love Illusion in late 2018. Do keep up, our point is that Golden Job is a rare alignment of stars.

Veteran mercenaries Lion (Ekin Cheng), Crater (Jordan Chan), Bill (Michael Tse), Mouse (Jerry Lamb) and Calm (Chin Kar Lok)  have been together through thick and thin since they were kids in an orphanage. Decades ago, crime boss Cho (Eric Tsang) had taken them all under his wing, impressed by their courage and sense of brotherhood. Now after years of difficult missions, they’re aspiring to settle down, but there’s of course one last job: to steal a truck full of medicine for the benefit of Lion’s girlfriend (Charmaine Sheh) a humanitarian doctor in dire need of it for the children she cares for. But while the heist itself goes swimmingly, the friends soon realize what they stole is actually gold, belonging to an intelligence agency. A Hungarian gangster has used them like puppets, and one of them was in on it: Bill. In the ensuing chaos, Cho is gravely wounded, Lion ends up in jail, and Bill runs away with the gold. But months later, it’s payback time.

Mixing the manly nostalgia, Eastern European locations and high body count of the Expendables films with the supercharged heist & revenge plot, platitudes about family, and fast cars of the Fast & Furious films, all of it swathed of course in a very Hong Kong sense of melodrama, Golden Job obviously benefits tremendously from the built-in chemistry between its leads. Of course for much of the runtime it’s mostly banter, joshing and brotherly toasts, but once the central betrayal unfolds, some depth is added, with shades of guilt, resentment and despair packing a solid emotional punch in key moments. It’s all quite simplistic but heartfelt, and Eric Tsang’s performance is so beautiful and full of gravitas as the father figure, that it’s easy to forgive the lazy script – a mechanical ‘brotherhood, betrayal and revenge’ affair – and commit to what happens onscreen.

While director Chin Kar Lok keeps a low profile in front of the camera, the rest of the gang is on fine form, looking not much older than 20 years ago, but having only gained charisma. As in the Young and Dangerous films, Jordan Chan is the standout: big-hearted and impulsive, he’s still a perfect match for Ekin Cheng’s cool and brooding (and much less bland than it once was) presence. And when adding the edgier Michael Tse and the softer Jerry Lamb, we’re constantly reminded why this particular quartet still resonates today. The women, Charmaine Sheh as the doctor girlfriend and Zhang Yamei as Tsang’s daughter, are expectedly given short shrift, but then you don’t watch The 14 Amazons for the men, do you?

Action is plentiful, and with Chin Kar Lok at the helm, expectedly excellent. A quick hors-d’oeuvre at a concert in the middle of the desert shows that the leads, while not young anymore, are still dangerous, and a ludicrous car chase in Fukuoka has too much CGI but a few gobsmacking moments. But the finale, a full-blown coordinated assault by the heroes on an island full of paramilitaries in Montenegro, is one of the best action scenes of the year, and it’s a joy to see the great Yasuaki Kurata cap off his extended cameo as a sake-loving neighbour with a brief but delightful fight against a roomfull of henchmen. Watch out also for Billy Chow, stalwart of eighties and nineties Hong Kong action cinema, back on the big screen – albeit briefly – for the first time in 15 years (since Daniel Lee’s Star Runner in 2003). Damn you, nostalgia.

Long Story Short: Golden Job is simplistic but heartfelt, carried by the impeccable chemistry of its leads and powered by a few excellent actions scenes. ***

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