Youth and danger

The Young and Dangerous series is one of the most prolific film franchises in the history of Hong Kong cinema – there are five sequels (two of which were released in the same year as the predecessor) and a prequel. Half a decade ago, there was a reboot. It’s semi-official i.e. same writer and same producers but the director is long gone (ditto for the cast). The series is based on a Chinese comic book titled Teddy Boy. There would’ve been more sequels prior to the reboot, but there was a controversial tragedy that had happened in 1999 – a year before the final sequel. On January 28, it was reported that six teens were found guilty of torturing and murdering a 15-year-old. The way that the torture and murder was carried out was based on a similar practice outlined in Teddy Boy.

Complicating matters is that six others, including three girls, were convicted of lesser charges – assaulting and causing grievous bodily harm to the male victim who was identified as Luk Chi-Wai, who Luk was beaten to death before set on fire on May 14. His body was never found. The court heard, during the five-month trial, that the gang attacked him with broomsticks, poles, folding stools, iron pipes and other weapons. A horrific account was provided by Hui Chi-Yung, 16, who was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm. The young man had testified that himself and his friends stepped forward, one by one, to kick and punch Luk as their names were announced during the reading of a poem most likely inspired by Teddy Boy. Surprisingly, one of their friends was only found guilty of manslaughter. The age range of the assailants was every teen that you can think of except 19.

Prior to the publication of the newspaper’s issue, an academic said that teenagers were particularly vulernable to what they saw and they had yet to fully a nurture a set of values to resist external influence. He said that messages conveyed via images stay in people’s minds longer than words. The academic’s workplace title was Assistant Professor of the Department of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University. Doctor Eric Ma Kit-Wai had suggested that comics had a big influence on teenagers in Hong Kong. Paul Chu Shun-Po, manager of King’s Fountain (which publishes the aforementioned best-selling comic) said he was not prepared to comment on the claim. He could only say: “We are just a business, and we publish the comics according to the laws of Hong Kong.”

As you can imagine, there were no Young and Dangerous movies coming out in 1999. Back in June of 1998, the prequel caused a considerably smaller stir because Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung’s mother wasn’t happy that her son was appearing in the Chinese equivalent to an NC-17 film. His father, Patrick Tse Yin, didn’t seem to be vocal about it. Deborah Dik Bo-Lai, on the other hand, said something which was misleading: “I really want to see this movie soon, to see how can a category III film can be made with an underage kid. Ting Fung becomes a category III star in his first movie, his old man – Sei Gor – has made numerous films and television series but has never made a category III film. How can I ask a mother accept that?”

The woman also known as Dik Boh-Laai expressed that she is considering legal action against those responsible for him starring in a category III film. However, she wasn’t clear on the matter yet or who would be responsible. The press at the scene of the première immediately tried to solve the puzzle for the former actress by naming Manfred Wong (the producer), Alfred Yeung (the presenter), Wong Jing (the studio head) and Raymond Chow (the distributor). She joked: “Then I will find Man Jun and Wong Jing. After that, I will drop a few drops of eye drops to find Mr. Yeung and Mr. Chow!”

When Jing appeared, the lady affectionately known by the media as Aunt Lai closed her fists and began swinging: “Hey fat guy, what did you do? My son is only 17.”

He immediately said: “Relax and leave Ting-Fung with me! Nothing will happen!”

She yelled: “Sure, now that he is at your disposal! I will decide whether to sue you or not after seeing the movie.”

He could only helplessly retreat. God knows how the legal proceedings were handled! In order to accommodate the more conservative film rating systems of Southeast Asia, the crew needed to shoot additional scenes showing Nicholas Tse’s character revealed as an undercover cop. These were filmed at the company’s offices. These scenes depicted the young Chan Ho-Nam secretly providing information to the police. Since the movie was slapped with a category III rating, Andrew Lau (the director) was asked if these scenes would be added in the H.K. version. He said: “Now we are considering adding this scene then sending it to be rated again in hopes that it would return with a category IIB rating. Then those under 18 can be admitted.”

It’s a wonder that the prequel was greenlit after Young and Dangerous 5 (released in January of 1998) proved to be example of diminishing returns. The budget was 16 million H.K.$ whereas the local box office was 12 million. Contrast this with the first one which cost 6 million and took in 21 million. The prequel grossed 2 million. The fourth sequel known as Born to Be King was released without the Young and Dangerous prefix. It made more money than the prequel, but still underperformed. You would be forgiven for thinking that the top three movies of the 1996 H.K. box office were the first three entries of the series, but look at the below statistics…

Young and Dangerous – 25/01/1996 – 24/04/1996 | Box Office: HK$ 21,141,877
Young and Dangerous 2 – 30/03/1996 – 08/05/1996 | Box Office: HK$ 22,494,497
Young and Dangerous 3 – 29/06/1996 – 10/08/1996 | Box Office: HK$ 19,513,168

Twister – 25/07/1996 – 09/10/1996 | Box Office: HK$ 28,257,019
Eraser – 08/08/1996 – 25/09/1996 | Box Office: HK$ 24,673,410
The Rock – 22/08/1996 – 13/10/1996 | Box Office: HK$ 30,557,395

The fourquel’s profit wasn’t much to write home about either. Look at the contenders…

Young and Dangerous 4 – 28/03/1997 – 23/04/1997 | Box Office (HK$): 15,797,825
Jerry Maguire – 30/01/1997 – 02/04/1997 | Box Office (HK$): 17,946,495
101 Dalmations – 06/02/1997 – 02/04/1997 | Box Office (HK$): 17,792,930

On February in 1998, Wong Jing managed to gain face as a film-maker by explaining to the press why the villains in his movies are so cruel and nearly invincible: “If the main villain isn’t strong enough and couldn’t get the upper hand, how can the movie be worth watching? We chose Mark Cheng to give Ekin much-needed pressure.”

Jing is talking about Young and Dangerous 5. He wasn’t the producer, writer, director, actor or even the presenter. He was a supervisor since it was made for his company: BoB (Best of Best). A reporter from the Ming Pao Daily was on the set as himself and Jing watched a fight scene. The reporter asked: “Ekin’s hair is so long, he can’t see Mark. How can he fight and how can he win?”

Jing’s response was: “Oh, he doesn’t need to see as long as he looks cool. I remember back when I joined Shaw Brothers, Lo Lieh said something to me which was quite similar to what I’m telling you – One doesn’t need to know how to fight; as long as it looks like one is able to fight then that’s enough.

The competition that it faced can be analyzed below…

Young and Dangerous 5 – 24/01/1998 – 08/03/1998 | Box Office: HK$ 12,875,420
Tomorrow Never Dies – 22/01/1998 – 18/03/1998 | Box Office: HK$ 29,133,340
The Replacement Killers – 23/01/1998 – 05/03/1998 | Box Office: HK$ 21,156,545

In my never-ending quest to perfect my translation of Wong Jing’s 2011 autobiography (due to the word-count rule), I decided to remove the section devoted to his involvement in the Young and Dangerous franchise since it has more of a place in this article. This is what he had to say about adapting Teddy Boy

When I consider the experience that my dad had in the entertainment industry for over forty years, I know that the most successful companies are able to endorse a large number of new companies. The most important thing is cementing the bond between the people behind the scenes, so the initial members of the BoB are my best partners: Andrew Lau and Manfred Wong. Although we formed the company, it was only when we did Young and Dangerous 2 that the company was credited. I used the proceeds from the first movie to start the company, but Andrew and Manfred had about as much involvement with the first movie as they did on the sequels and prequel.

As a forty-year-old in 1995, it had been a long time since I had read comic books. I had originally planned to retire as a director at the age of forty, but I didn’t want to be known as a director whose final film was a flop. Instead of quitting, I considerably slowed down my output. As such, I was in a relaxed mood when I heard Manfred’s idea to adapt the Teddy Boy comics. I wasn’t a fan of Triad pop culture, but I know to be objective. The movie audience is mainly composed of teenagers and twentysomethings, so I have to adjust my mentality to catch up with the times…as do they since most young people follow trends. Manfred also explained the advantages and disadvantages of these comics to me. After reviewing the script, I used my touch to make it less faithful so that it can be more accessible.

But casting the actor was a big problem. The characters of Chan Ho-Nam and Chicken made us consider too many options. For the role of Chan, we considered Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Simon Yam and Julian Cheung Chi-Lam. I decided to take a chance on Ekin Cheng since Andrew Lau liked working with him on Mean Street Story, but I didn’t want to cast Eric Kot as Chicken because then that would give people an excuse to compare the two movies. Ironically, this didn’t stop us from casting these two in another comic book adaptation titled Feel 100%. Although, in that instance, it was easier to do because that movie was going to be directed by Joe Ma instead of Andrew Lau. Back to Young and Dangerous, we decided upon casting Jordan Chan as Chicken.

Li Kuo-Hsing, the chairman of Mei Ah Entertainment, had been my friend for a very long time. He was credited as presenter on four movies which I had worked on as either writer or producer – The Family of Swindler King, Who’s My Father?, Full Alert and Lawyer, Lawyer. Regarding the latter two movies, Li had helped directors Ringo Lam and Joe Ma respectively with getting these projects off the ground. He helped me to acquire the necessary funds to finalize part one of the Teddy Boy series, but he didn’t want to be credited as a presenter in case the movie ran into any controversy. The movie had only cost H.K.$ 6 million to make. Despite being cheap to make, the movie was a nightmare. Nobody could take Ekin seriously as a hardcore gangster. It would have been very tempting to do a parody to seal the cracks, but our morale crafted a new type of gangster film that influenced a generation of young people.

Studio/distributor Golden Harvest didn’t want to be involve as distributor in case that there were any parents and protestors who would try to get the movie removed from cinemas. When we were awaiting the box office result, everyone else had expiratory eyebrows. When I received the latest update, I was relieved that Young and Dangerous went past the 20 million dollar mark. We exhaled a long breath. Our BoB company finally had a chance to succeed. Although BoB wasn’t credited on the movie, our names were. Many people could not understand why the movie was successful. I certainly would not tell them because then everyone would try to duplicate its success.

Speaking of duplicates, we set about doing that by making an offshot that would appeal to the same genders for different reasons. Sexy and Dangerous would, ideally, create a situation where the women want to be like the ladies on screen whereas the men would lust after them. Simultaneously, we shot the first two Young and Dangerous sequels back-to-back. Young and Dangerous had yet to finish its Hong Kong theatrical run when the sequel came out. When they saw that the coast was clear, Golden Harvest paid a lot of money to distribute the second sequel. Despite the sequels and copycats, BoB’s real legacy was that it was a Shaolin temple for a new generation of film-makers like Aman Chang, Raymond Yip and James Yuen…but Andrew as a teacher was never surpassed by any of the students. I, of course, am the grandmaster.


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