09 Nov ON THE WRONG TRACK REVIEW By Silver Emulsion Film Reviews
As I mentioned in my post about Teenage Dreamers, I’m a huge fan of Hong Kong delinquent youth films. When On the Wrong Track began with Andy Lau’s face superimposed over slow-motion fire and crashing cars, I was instantly reminded of the 1973 Chang Cheh/Kuei Chih-Hung film The Delinquent. In that film’s opening credits, our lead character’s relationship with authority is foreshadowed as he literally jumps and crashes through symbolic paintings of his societal woes. The images that open On the Wrong Track seemed like they might be equally prophetic, and it turns out that this isn’t too far from the truth. On the Wrong Track wears its themes on its sleeve, and yet it’s also a film that has a hard time focusing itself on a specific moral lesson.
Paul (Andy Lau) and Ah De (Yim Chau-Wah) are delinquent teen brothers who spend their days making trouble for anyone who crosses their path. They’ll mock you and completely trash your car without a second thought or a bit of remorse. Their parents have recently divorced and they live with their father (Yueh Hua), who is a well-respected policeman. You’d think he could control his sons — especially when we learn that he works in an authority position within the prison system — but at home he’s tired and at a loss for how to deal with his sons. It’s probably a common situation, and it’s one I’ve seen in various TV shows and movies (Benny Chan’s New Police Story is what immediately comes to mind), but regardless of that it lays a perfect groundwork for the melodrama to come.
One the Wrong Track is a densely packed movie, but I wouldn’t say that it’s too concerned with its narrative. This is more slice-of-life filmmaking, but since there’s so much going on it’s more like a chunk-of-life film. 🙂 It’s a hard film to describe; traditional narrative structure dictates that a story begins with a conflict and ends with a resolution of this conflict. In On the Wrong Track this sort of thing happens over and over throughout the film, but the entire film itself doesn’t really share this quality. I just kept going back to the opening image and the title. We are presented with the brothers in various situations, and they always make the choice to go down the wrong track. Ah De does this without care or mercy, at one point even inferring that it is his way of presenting his suicidal mental state. Paul show signs of teetering on the edge of choice, though, and I guess in this way there is a subtle arc over the course of the film. It’s a tough, nihilistic arc, but it is an arc nonetheless.
This structure makes the film incredibly intense and exciting at every turn. I was riveted from the first moments until the crushing, abrupt ending, with the stakes and the consequences continually ratcheting up the tension. There are definitely threads that could’ve been better handled, such as the romantic sub-plot between Paul and his Vietnamese refugee girlfriend Shi (Prudence Liew Mei-Kwan), but in line with the film’s slice-of-life mentality it doesn’t necessarily feel like anything is missing from the story. The key is that Paul and Ah De are unpredictable characters who I never lost faith in. Perhaps this is why the film worked so well for me; at every new development, I hoped for some moment of clarity or redemption, and when it never came I was emotionally crushed and pulled into their lives even more.
The other interesting element to the film’s equation is how the script is credited to the Shaw Creative Group. I don’t know the exact situation, but I take this to mean that a good many people worked on the script, but that none of them really wanted to own the responsibility of it. It would explain the loose narrative and the unfocused themes, if nothing else. Only four other film scripts were credited to the Shaw Creative Group, so it’s probably safe to assume this is the case, and that team-credited scripts weren’t a normal thing at this time at the Shaw Studio.
None of these issues impaired my enjoyment of the film in the slightest, though, and I attribute most of that to the work of director Clarence Fok. The film is beautifully shot and perfectly stitched together. The rhythms of the music and the editing work hand-in-hand to create a steady pace towards the finale. All of this, and a trio of excellent performances from Andy Lau, Yim Chau-Wah and Yueh Hua, make for one of the most entertaining and heartbreaking films of Hong Kong’s delinquent youth sub-genre.
On the Wrong Track was Clarence Fok’s first and only Shaw film, and his third film overall. He would later go on to direct the cult hit Naked Killer and Donnie Yen’s recent Special ID, as well as fan favorites like The Dragon from Russia, The Iceman Cometh, and a personal favorite of mine: 1993’s The Black Panther Warriors. Fok is a Hong Kong director that doesn’t get a lot of press, but I hope that the recent digital release of On the Wrong Track by Celestial might renew interest in his work.
Watch On the Wrong Track with Prime Video: http://amzn.to/2ykMkpv