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The Goldfinger

Fans of “Infernal Affairs,” the brilliant 2002 Hong Kong thriller that spawned two sequels and served as the basis for Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning 2006 remake “The Departed” will no doubt be chomping at the bit to get a look at “The Goldfinger,” a new HK import that marks the first reteaming of that film’s magnetic co-stars, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau in a project written and directed by Felix Chong, who co-wrote that earlier project. To add to the curiosity factor, it tells a story that, while inspired by a real-life financial scandal that dominated Hong Kong headlines in the 1980s, comes across like a hybrid of a couple of other Scorsese classics, “Goodfellas” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” And yet, despite all of that, the resulting film is a curiously uninvolving work that takes what sounds like a potentially fascinating story and somehow manages to render it mostly inert due to a disappointingly shallow treatment.

The film opens in the early 1970s as bankrupt Singaporean Henry Ching (Leung Chiu-wai) arrives in Hong Kong with the hopes of making a career for himself as an engineer. That dream doesn’t pan out but his luck soon changes when he manages, more or less by accident, to stumble into a deal where he manages to make a quick million in real estate by cutting a deal with a developer who is under the mistaken belief that he is far richer and powerful than he actually is. Over the next few years, he builds upon that initial success with a number of jaw-dropping deals and by the time the 80s roll around, he is the head of a business empire that is worth billions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this empire proves to be not quite as stable as it initially appears and ends up attracting the attention of Independent Commission Against Corruption investigator Lau Kai-yuen (Lau). While Ching goes through elaborate efforts to keep things going—utilizing everything from bribes and women to outright intimidation in order to attract new partners and ever-increasing bank loans—Lau doggedly goes about connecting the dots in order to make a case against his quarry, even to the point of alienating his own wife and family by his frequent absences. Even when Lau seems to have everything he needs to put Ching away for good, he proves to be frustratingly out of reach thanks to his wealth, connections and his willingness to go to any lengths to avoid even the slightest punishment for his crimes.

Like I said, this all sounds interesting in theory, but Chong seems at times to almost be going out of his way to defuse the potential tension and excitement. One big problem is the decision to impose a flashback structure that finds many of the incidents being recounted by Ching’s associates under police questioning instead of employing a more straightforward chronology. I assume that this was done in order to give more screen time to the investigator character, but it just winds up needlessly complicating matters and giving the impression that we are merely watching a collection of incidents than a fully engrossing and satisfying story.

Another flaw is that we never get any real sense of what is driving and motivating the two central characters beyond the most basic notions about Ching’s all-encompassing greedy mentality and Lau’s earnest determination to find justice—the kind that aren’t markedly different from what one might have found in an old Monogram Pictures programmer from the 40s about how Crime Doesn’t Pay. (In perhaps the most frustrating aspect of a film filled with such things, there is the hint at one point that Ching may only be the public face for even more powerful and shadowy interests but no sooner than it introduces that potentially tantalizing possibility, it seems to forget all about it.)

The film might have gotten away with its surface-level narrative treatment if it had at least provided us with the kind of fireworks between the two co-stars that fans of “Infernal Affairs” are clearly hoping to see but even here, it is a bit of a letdown. They only have a few scenes together and when they do share the screen, the results are negligible. Leung Chiu-wai has the showier role by far as Ching, and, while he is having fun with it, he is unable to bring anything deeper to the role. Meanwhile, Lau, in what is essentially a supporting turn, goes through his character’s familiar paces without every really hinting at what is driving him and his pursuit.

“The Goldfinger” is certainly slick and stylishly made—perhaps appropriately, considering its subject matter, it is apparently one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever produced—and I suppose that the story it tells might have more resonance with viewers who have a greater familiarity with the real story that supplied its inspiration. For the most part, though, it feels like a film that has already gone through the remake process, casting all the stuff that made it interesting in the first place aside and leaving only the glossy surfaces.  

Peter Sobczynski

A moderately insightful critic, full-on Swiftie and all-around bon vivant, Peter Sobczynski, in addition to his work at this site, is also a contributor to The Spool and can be heard weekly discussing new Blu-Ray releases on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing network.

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Film Credits

The Goldfinger movie poster

The Goldfinger (2023)

126 minutes


Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Ching Yat Yin

Andy Lau as Lau Kai Yuen

Simon Yam as Tsang Kim Kiu

Charlene Choi as Cheung Ka Man

Alex Fong Chung-Sun as Kelvin



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