Monday, July 7, 2014

Film Review: The Last Tycoon (2012)

The Last Tycoon (Review)
China/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...has its share of shortcomings, but it also has plenty of exemplary elements."

The rise of young gangster Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiaoming), his life as a prominent mob boss in Shanghai (Chow Yun-fat), and how a historical event would change his character...

The Last Tycoon tells the story of Cheng Daqi. The first half of the story jumps frequently from past to present. It'll show you Daqi's uprising and his past relationships, then jump to the present to follow Daqi in Japan occupied Shanghai -- and how he chooses to deal with it -- then back to the present, and so on. The second half focuses more on Daqi as a mob boss, especially when the war begins to take a toll on his personal life and relationship. The first half is an entertaining but run-of-the-mill gangster flick, while the second half differentiates itself for a more personal drama. The ending was great, but I felt some elements were unnecessary -- said element kind of made the film drag a bit.

First and foremost, my first issue comes with the unnecessarily convoluted storytelling. The jumping from past to present helps keep the audience engaged, but for the wrong reasons; instead of focusing on the story and characters, you're trying to piece this together like a puzzle, and its far from a mystery film. Also, the story felt very compressed; Cheng Daqi's life is so interesting, but we get minuscule details because it moves so fast over decades of his life. And, I also found it to be disjointed. One moment the character would be doing this or saying that, then it leaps to a different scene or completely change the mood -- it never got into a smooth flow.

However, despite the miniscule details, I liked Cheng Daqi's character; I mean, I don't praise gangsters or idolize the lifestyle, but I appreciate the story's focus on character. Although the romance elements also feel half-baked, I liked the love-triangle; sure, it can come off as corny, but it also felt surprisingly genuine. If any of the elements came up fully developed, I'd say it's the action. By no means is this another Hard Boiled, but it has a handful of exciting shootouts and vicious melee action sequences. And, what else can I say, I'm sure like many of you, I'm a sucker for a gangster flick, especially film's like this, with old-school settings.

Huang Xiaoming plays the younger Cheng Daqi, while Chow Yun-fat plays the older Cheng Daqi. The former is very good, but Chow Yun-fat stole the show with his charismatic and genuine performance; I feel like he really redeemed the half-baked romance plot. (Also, the man must've found the fountain of youth, he never ages!) I loved the cinematography, I'm a big fan of the use of vibrant colors, and this film is very vivid. The music was also great; it had a Godfather-vibe, with a pinch of the culture. Director Wong Jing is decent; the film's lack of flow and consistency makes it feel like a TV show stitched together.

Overall, The Last Tycoon is a very good gangster crime film. It has its share of shortcomings, but it also has plenty of exemplary elements. I disliked the inconsistent flow of the film, but I actually enjoyed the story, especially the latter half, and the character. I also loved the film's visual style and music, which is at least worth noting. Definitely worth a Netflix stream, and even a purchase for die-hard fans of the genre.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

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