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MOVIE REVIEW
I Did It My Way (2024)

The heavy hand of the Chinese censors is painfully obvious throughout “I Did It My Way,” which does its best to tell its violent story within these exhausting restrictions. There’s a sequence showing Hong Kong schoolgirls in uniform who are so high one thinks she can fly and the other doesn’t notice as her friend falls to her death. Brain-on-drugs messaging was passé in American movies by the 1980s; and it’s depressing to see how it’s forced into what should have been a cracking tale of a good man going bad alongside a bad man going evil.

The good man is Sau Ho (Gordon Lam), who lives with his wife, Maggie (Hedwig Tam), and kid in a kind of converted shipping container. Maggie doesn’t care he’s part of a local drugs gang run by Boss (Philip Keung), but she doesn’t know Sau Ho is also an undercover cop. Boss’s lawyer, George (Andy Lau, who also produced), is a prominently bad man, in that he drives a Rolls-Royce convertible with a personalized license plate and lives in a large glass-walled villa on an isolated hillside. Discretion is passé too, so much so that when George finally marries his much younger girlfriend, Vivian (Cya Liu), their beach-resort wedding is stormed by Western mercenaries working for a South American drug lord named Javier Escobar (Mike Leeder, playing a stereotype but without being ridiculous). Vivian witnesses the death of most of her guests and George’s unexpected proficiency with a machine gun in surprising silence, although the early sequence where she sneaks a cigarette despite being heavily pregnant implies she has some darkness of her own. It’s probably been about the 1980s since a pregnant lady smoked in American movies, either. But the censors can’t be held responsible for “I Did It My Way” not knowing whether it’s telling a modern story or not.

Visually the movie couldn’t look any more of the zeitgeist if it tried. Director Jason Kwan, who also did the cinematography, keeps the lines so clean and the color palette so firmly grey this could almost be a black-and-white movie. Everyone wears similar black suits with white shirts and the women all have their hair tied back in similar ponytails. The criminals are at least able to dress with a little more panache, though the crooked I.T. team, led by Davis (Terrance Lau, making a strong impression), all wear samey hipster clothes and hats. Davis delivers his nefarious updates with an air of quiet amusement, as if he cannot believe something so easy for him is so hard for others. His schemes for selling a vast amount of stolen pills are absolutely modern, using mobile phone technology in a way that American movies are unlikely to be able to copy anytime soon. And there are long C.G.I. sequences which try to make cyber-attacks more visual than just people frantically typing on their laptops. Mr. Kwan keeps the camera in almost constant motion, whether shaking along with the fight scenes or panning around George as he ponders on a rooftop. Cheng Wai Lun’s montage-style editing keeps the pace at speed, too.

Mr. Lau here radiates an air of contempt which makes him a calm menace, able to hold his own under police interrogation and most importantly in a hospital sequence so embarrassing it would have sunk a lesser star. His performance – ignoring those hospital scenes, which are too ludicrous to discuss – is finely calibrated to show how George’s humanity is starting to curdle. Mr. Lam has a more dramatic part – one where terror of discovery, disgust at how dirty his hands are, and pride in his police work play into every nerve-racking moment – but the movie is skewed so strongly in his favor that his performance is somehow over the top.

But sometimes old school wins out. The greatest sequence is when good cop Eddie Fong (Eddie Peng) gets into a terrible hand-to-hand fight with an assassin in a modernist wine cellar, full of glass walls for them to smash through and floor-to-ceiling bottle racks to shatter over their bodies. This sequence is fresh and frightening, is one of the few times the camera hangs back, and is by itself worth the price of admission. But the rest of the time the police scowl at CCTV screens while shouting things like, “Lives are at stake! This is not a game!” Unfortunately the balance between beautifully choreographed warehouse shootouts and montages of cool kids trying to buy pills via livestream never comes right. With the exception of the wineshop fight, “I Did It My Way” tends toward ridiculousness, but at least it tried.

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