Blood Money (血染黃金)

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If you ever need an antidote to the Gordon Gecko mantra, “Greed is good,” you can be sure to find one in the Union Studios vaults. The company’s top leading men, Ng Cho-Fan and Cheung Ying, are paired alongside a cast of sturdy second line actors and the brilliant Mui Yee in Blood Money, a slow-cooked thriller that warns against the lust for riches.

Adapted from Hong Kong writer Yuen Long’s novel The Story of Swallowing Gold (吞金記), the movie opens during World War II. Scarface Lee (Ng Cho-Fan), a Chinese stooge for the Japanese, convinces a group of prisoners under his charge to steal a chest of gold from the occupying soldiers. The theft goes off swimmingly, but problems arise when the gang of eight has to decide what to do with the money and how to make it back home.

The film offers several portraits of greed, the most unscrupulous of which comes in the form of Scarface Lee. He bullies his way into position and casually dispenses with anyone he finds meddlesome. Ng Cho-Fan, in a role that sharply contrasts with his moralizing father figure characters, wears despicable well, his wiry mustache perched stiffly over a toothy smile.

Meanwhile, Scarface’s wife Mimi (Mui Yee) proves to be a formidable partner. Mui Yee imbues her character with a tempered seductiveness that counters Scarface’s overt malevolence. Her Mimi is a little more patient but no less greedy and conspires equally with her husband and her lover (Lee Ching). Mui is typecast here but manages to convey her character’s cunning with little more than a sidelong glance and a puff on her cigarette.

Blood Money’s agenda, however, is best embodied by Tong (Cheung Ying), the most sensible of the group and the one with whom the audience is meant to identify. He recognizes the absurdity of hoarding the gold when the group first finds itself stranded on a mountain and more in need food more than of money. It is Tong who proclaims that it would be better to split rice than gold, especially as they rest in the shadow of war.

Yet as the gold itself becomes a character, he begins to lose perspective and ignores the protestations of his wife, Ying (Siu Yin-Fei). She is the moral core of the story and insists that they could be content with the fruits of their hard work. Tong is lured by the game of greed and grows convinced that he is not getting his fair share.

The movie never hides its argument about avarice and is more interesting as a character study than a cautionary tale. And while the manifestations of greed vary in subtlety and thus perhaps effectiveness, the strength of the actors still makes this an engaging film.

Released: 1957
Dir: Chu Kei 珠璣
Writer: Yuen Long 阮朗
Original Story: Yuen Long 阮朗
Cast: Ng Cho-Fan 吳楚帆; Cheung Ying 張瑛; Mui Yee 梅綺; Lee Ching 李清; Siu Yin-Fei 小燕飛; Wong Cho-San 黃楚山; Geung Chung-Ping 姜中平; Ng Tung 吳桐; Lee Pang-Fei 李鵬飛
Time: 107 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2013

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