TrivisaThere is a notable lack of overt sentiment in the Hong Kong action thriller, Trivisa, but just below the surface of this intriguing film, there is an ache. Trivisa is a bittersweet valentine to the heyday of the hardboiled Hong Kong crime flicks of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Strikingly, the movie does not attribute the decline of the genre to the growing regional influence of Hollywood films that assimilated the themes and talent of Hong Kong action cinema, but squarely targets the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997 as the end of an era.

The vehicle producer Johnny To has assembled to make this point is unique and impressive. Three directors are utilized, each of whom tracks a different criminal as the three Kings of Thieves converge for an undetermined, but undoubtedly glorious misdeed to coincide with the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China in July 1997. The young directors – Jevons Au, Frank Hui, and Vicky Wong – are skillfully aided and abetted by a trio of wonderful actors: Richie Jen, Lam Ka Tung (aka Gordon Lam), and Jordan Chan.

Chan, in particular, is a delight as the metrosexual kidnapper, Cheuk Tze-keung, who is bored with the easy pickings, and seizes on the rumors that he will team up with his rivals for a spectacular final score. While Cheuk relishes his role as criminal, Lam’s Kwai Ching-Hung is more morally ambiguous. A shadowy figure who has stayed below the radar while committing a series of robberies over the years, he is now decidedly more small time, reduced to manipulating an old friend and his young daughter. Yip Kwok-foon (Jen) remains unapologetically Old School, living and dying by the sheer force of the automatic weapon and the blunt force heist.

Can the three get together before time runs out, both for the Hong Kong and for the audience as the build up lengthens in this brisk feature? The what-might-have-been ending answers that question in a series of sweet and sad postcards to the genre’s history. The action is fierce; the violence perhaps a bit more realistic than what John Woo brought to the screen beginning with A Better Tomorrow in 1986. The merging of the three directors is visually smooth as their individual styles complement one other. Blending the storylines does create a sense of choppiness at times, but it is not clear that a viewer would be aware that the film had multiple directors if it were not pointed out.

Trivisa, which enjoyed its world premiere in the Forum section of the Berlinale Film Festival in February, serves as a perfect companion piece to last year’s Kung Fu Killer, the Donnie Yen flick that featured a homage to Hong Kong greats during the credits. By contrast, the tone of Trivisa is not celebratory. The sense of loss is palpable and gives the film a power beyond its adherence to and elevation of the conventions of this magnificent film genre.

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