Protégé (Moon to)
Protégé is a film about a the protégé of a high end drug dealer who just happens to be a deep undercover cop, infiltrating one of the biggest drug gangs in Asia and working into the trust of the only visible face of the gang, the Banker.
Daniel Wu plays Nick, a special agent in the police force who has been undercover for eight years dealing with one of the key front members of the drug organisation, the Banker, played by Andy Lau. Although the police now have enough evidence to convict the Banker, they want to try and find the head of the organisation and convict them all, and so he has to remain there, gaining the trust of the Banker until he'll finally let him in.
While he finds himself being drawn deeper and deeper into the crime world, he struggles to fight against it and try and find something normal, something of his own to live for. Something to keep his anchor with reality.
Protégé looks superbly filmed from the opening scene, but here the style never takes the lead, indeed the style is kept to the very minimum and it prefers a more realistic viewpoint, concentrating on the complex relationships that the characters have to deal with, and that's a good thing for we get a stronger thriller for it.
Add to that the fact that it carries a much more deliberate pace than most Asian thrillers I've seen, and it's a much more focused and personal film, in a way it feels a lot more Western in its style.
The story builds well and the changes in our lead character are real life shades of grey, never the more black and whites you would expect with undercover police thrillers, indeed during his dealings with drugs and the junkies he supplies he even begins to wonder what that life holds for people and begins to get curious himself. At various points of the film you can feel his character being pulled towards the different aspects of his life, and the question is will he make the right decision in the end, or the least wrong one.
It turns out an interesting conclusion, even if it is a little twee, with a few slightly different turns along the way. The film also manages to perform a little education about drug trafficking, and not in a positive light. Some of the facts that are revealed about the reliance on drugs, the world's attempts to solve the problem, and the ongoing laws of supply and demand. None of this takes too much of the film and fits in seamlessly as the undercover cop's view of the drug organisation expands.
The leads are very good, Andy Lau and Daniel Wu are great to watch on screen, but for me the strongest lead was Zhang Jing Chu as Jane, the woman that Wu's character begins to feel some sort of connection with that really does shine.
She's helped by having a really interesting character who is struggling to look after her son and maybe get something out of life for herself, but in the background there are two dark figures in her life trying to bring her back down, and that's when the undercover cop meets her and her child and begins to make a reluctant connection. She really draws you into her character, and the struggle she faces is not only believable but also the most engaging character arc in the film.
Saying that Andy Lau is very good, it's not his best role, but he always commands the screen when he's on it, and here's no exception. Daniel Wu is an actor I've never seen before, but he stands well with this great actor and Chu's fantastic performance.
Overall the story for the film is strong with three good, strong leads, and delivers an interesting and engaging viewing. The film has some style to it, but it holds firmly to the background, never stepping forward and obscuring the feeling of reality and the personal, character based film.