The Big Score
"Jing throws some nice twists into the proceedings which prove that he's one of Hong Kong's best screenwriters."
- Joseph Kuby
The Big Score (1990)
Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Mike Abbott, Agnes Aurelio, Kwok Shing Hong, Danny Lee,Siu-Kei Lee, Chung Lin, Fong Lung, Sheren Tang, To-Hoi, Joey Wang, Tian-lin Wang, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Jing Wong
Running Time: 106 min.
Plot: See review below.
JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: Despite containing comedy, this is one of Wong Jing's darker films. Like in Return to a Better Tomorrow, a child gets shot (although it's not violent like the similar scene in John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13).
Jing's dad, Wong Ting Lam, has a role as one of the villain's businessmen. Lam was also the executive producer. I wonder what he has to say about Jing's mixture of light and dark elements.
Like in Jing's homage to John Woo, we see the influence of Woo's mentor Chang Cheh. How each actor and actress is introduced with the accompaniment of a credit reminded me of how the Venoms were introduced in Invincible Shaolin.
Unlike a myriad of crime thrillers, it's only in a Wong Jing film that you would see a pregnant woman get raped. Queasy viewers needn't worry as it's not as graphic as the fetus in the jar scene in God of Gamblers Returns.
I was disappointed that the torture scenes were not as graphic as I expected them to be. If this was remade by Takashi Miike, we'd be in for a bigger shock. However, there was some black humour in the female assassin putting on music while filming Anthony Wong's wife being raped.. The essence of this gag was revisited somewhat in High Risk.
I was also dismayed that Agnes Aureilo didn't get to fight as much. Those who liked her in Licence to Steal and She Shoots Straight will feel that she's wasted in this film. I felt the same way about Eddie Maher in Jing's Crocodile Hunter after I saw him in Pedicab Driver and In the Line of Duty 4.
Akin to Crocodile Hunter, The Big Score is a good example of what to find in a Wong Jing film even if it's not one of his best films.
To be fair, one of Jing's best moments as a drama director is in this film. Danny Lee arrives too late to assist a team of police officers as not only have they been killed but the evidence has been destroyed. The transition in tone, musically, conveys a tender feeling that proved words or tears aren't necessary to create emotionally moving cinema. Within such a simple scene, we understand that Danny is frustrated, upset and guilty. It reminds me of what Bey Logan said about not stating what you can't imply.
In vengeance movies, the payback should always match the crime and when you see how bad the extent of the crime is, you'll actually feel glad seeing one of the bad guys get hung upside down whilst being set on fire.
However, in Jing's case, the conception of the vengeance is different than the outcome. In any other revenge flick, a vendetta is carried out with the sole intent of killing someone. Here, the aim is to cheat the main villain of his money, humiliate him and leave the killing to someone else.
With that said, Jing agrees to teach Danny how to gamble in return for being taught on how to shoot. The scenes of Jing's tutoring confirms his status as the best director when it comes to the gambling sub-genre. He is to that what Sergio Leone is to Westerns and what John Woo is the heroic bloodshed sub-genre.
The cinematography during the target practice session is to be admired. Of particular note is a glistening shot of a gun being held. It's like something you'd see in any random Woo movie. Another fancy piece of camerawork is a zoom-in on a mirrored wall where we can't see the camera in the reflection.
After watching this film, I've realized that if Jing could be criticized for one thing, it's that he's not capitalized on his potential to direct psychological thrillers or horror movies. He certainly has the intelligence and audacity to do so. There's a sense he could have been taken more seriously as a director had he directed a few more dramas, such as Crying Heart - a film which had positive reviews on IMDB but negative reviews on HKMDB. His detractors would have been more tolerant of his comedy had he mellowed out a bit.
Looking at Jing in this film, I've come to the conclusion that he's the Chinese equivalent to the American director John Hughes. Speaking of directors, this is the second film Jing made in 1990 where a character is called Jeff Lau.
The joke about Jing looking like Tom Cruise got me thinking about something I read a long time ago. Apparently, Cruise originally wanted Jing to be the director of Mission: Impossible 2. I'm thinking Tom must have seen this film because the romantic car chase we see in this film reminds me of the one in M:I 2.
In an interview, Jing said that he was not interested in making conventional action films. His interest is to take ordinary people and put them in exciting situations. The Big Score is an astute example of that. Even though Danny plays a cop, he retires after the first act and he is more easy-going in his persona.
One of Jing's trademarks - the vertigo shot - is in this film. He has employed this method in God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai, Royal Tramp, City Hunter, Kung Fu Cult Master, Return to a Better Tomorrow, God of Gamblers Returns and High Risk.
Jing throws some nice twists into the proceedings which prove that he's one of Hong Kong's best screenwriters. A lot of people criticize him for not being subtle but I find that his dialogue is where he derives much of his comedy from (versus silly faces and slapstick). I actually laughed at some points.
In a way, this film was not only capitalizing on the success God of Gamblers attained but also the success The Killer attained outside of Hong Kong (particularly in Taiwan where it was a huge success). There's even some funny references to the film. Déjà vu should sink in when you see the blind girl and the car park sequence. Even the budget is referenced:
"Crazy! 2 million U.S. equal to 16 million HK dollars."
Peculiarly, every time a character says wow or whoa, the subtitles read Woo. Actually, like Woo with Bullet in the Head, Jing was only able to recuperate the production costs outside of Hong Kong. The reason being that both Bullet in the Head and The Big Score contain references to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Audiences were very sensitive about it hence why Ringo Lam got threatened when he said unsympathetic remarks about the incident.
It's a shame that this film didn't receive Western distribution like The Last Blood did (when that film was released as Hard Boiled 2 in the U.K.) because several actors in this film appeared in John Woo's movies. The Woo-related marketing reference points are Danny Lee (who was in The Killer), Anthony Wong (who was in Hard Boiled) and Lam Chung (who was in Bullet in the Head).
Here are some classic examples of the flubtitles present in this film:
"You'd better scared me of raping!"
"I know you're satyr, before revenge."
"Woman may be satyr, you know!"
"Let's be thief, ok"
"I'm the looser again."
"You bitch! Actually I've a bit fonding of you."
Other classic examples of dialogue:
"Go & piss, let me substitute you."
"Go pissing to get rid of the bad luck."
"Bastard! You satyr!"
"To be a qualified racketeer you must remember the card order of your enemy."
"According to our IQ, we can easily be a lawyer."
"Turn on the radio to drive your boredom out!"
"You're good looking, you'd better be a whore."
In spite of his reputation as one of Hong Kong's worst directors, you could do a lot worse than watch a Wong Jing movie. The Big Score is a film where you can derive as much enjoyment from the comedy as you can with the action. Just don't expect it to be the second coming of The Killer.
JOSEPH KUBY'S RATING: 7/10