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The Underworld of Triads

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Definition of Jiang Hu
While almost everyone in Hong Kong knows what it implies, few are able to define it with clarity. With the two Chinese words literally translating as "rivers" and "lakes", Jiang Hu has evolved to denote the concept of triad culture including notions of justice, loyalty and modern-day chivalry.
With endless tales of struggle between cops and gangsters, brotherhood and betrayal, glory and dishonor, the triad genre is among the most popular features of Hong Kong cinema. Blending realistic storylines with breathtaking actions, these eight revolutionary triad movies have inspired, entranced, and educated viewers on traditions of brotherhood and introduced the obscure concept of Jiang Hu (see sidebar) to wider audiences.

A Better Tomorrow Directed by John Woo

Spawning a new generation in the triad movie genre, A Better Tomorrow marked a milestone in Hong Kong movie history with record ticket sales and Best Picture award at the 1986 Hong Kong Film Awards. This groundbreaking John Woo production raised the blood-and-bullet genre to an elevated realm of cinematic artistry and hyper-kinetic action. The characters in A Better Tomorrow played by Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung (winner of Best Actor at the Golden Horse Awards) have inspired legions of followers and fans.

The Killer Directed by John Woo

Another Woo masterpiece, The Killer illustrates the dilemma of upholding principles, sacrificing friends and betraying one's conscience. It's a classic example of Woo's cinematic style and flair, with the infamous church bloodbath scene included. As described by John Woo, The Killer is "a movie conveying my philosophical thinking and my own version of righteousness".

As Tears Go By Directed by Wong Kar-wai

The 1980s golden age for the Hong Kong movie business granted filmmakers a fortune from both local and overseas markets, in turn provided directors funding to experiment with alternative films. Focusing more on artistry and technique rather than explosive special effects, Wong Kar-wai's As Tears Go By merged romanticism and lush cinematography with scenes of Hong Kong gangster life. The love story performed by Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung and Maggie Cheung is flawlessly interspersed with uniquely choreographed action; an early example of a post-modern crossover of blending action with passion.

City on Fire Directed by Ringo Lam

Chow Yun Fat plays an undercover officer who infiltrates a violent gang of triad members. He soon finds himself immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the triads and is forced to make the difficult choice of where to place his loyalty. The heart-wrenching performance by Chow won him Best Actor at the 1987 Hong Kong Film Awards, and City on Fire marked a place in local movie history with its brilliant casting and action-packed drama.

The Mission by Johnnie To

Blurring the lines between crime drama, triad action and romanticism, Johnny To's stylish The Mission masterfully creates a world where people are forced to turn into cold-blooded killers, yet still possess an inherent sense of goodness and morality. Is it a reflection of today's society?

Young and Dangerous Directed by Andrew Lau

Glamorizing the triad lifestyle full of flash clothes, fast cars, and fabulous women, Young and Dangerous provides a glimpse into the culture of triads. The influential movie and its many sequels, spin-offs and parodies, depict the importance of discipline, morality, righteousness and tradition.

Infernal Affairs Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
Bringing an inventive twist to the typical triad movie, the directors blaze new trails by replacing bloody fighting with a darker and more philosophical spin in Infernal Affairs. Winner of seven prizes including Best Movie at the 2002 Hong Kong Film Awards, Infernal Affairs raised the bar by injecting non-stop games of double-crossing, questioning of integrity, and shifting of loyalties.

Jiang Hu Directed by Wong Ching Po
One of the most highly anticipated movies of 2004, Jiang Hu glorifies the value of brotherhood and comradeship in the underworld by re-establishing a sense of deep-rooted law and order. Star Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung, Jiang Hu is a modern take on chivalry and blurred concepts of righteousness.

Published June 25, 2004

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
  • *Reference Currency: No Reference Currency
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