Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau Tak-wah (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Returning affairs

The Goldfinger is an action thriller of the mind

Artillery Row

It’s 21 years since Tony Leung and Andy Lau faced off against each other in the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs. It’s difficult now to recall how much harder it was for a subtitled foreign film to break out in the days before streaming — in a time, indeed, when DVD players weren’t universal.

Infernal Affairs, the tale of a cop going undercover in a criminal gang whilst the same gang sends someone else undercover into the police, managed it. It was helped by tight directing and the charisma of the two stars. The film was more gripping than Martin Scorcese’s 2006 remake, The Departed, which was also, of course, 50 minutes longer.

The pair are reunited with Felix Chong, who co-wrote the 2002 film, in The Goldfinger, a fictionalisation of a scandal that rocked Hong Kong in the 1980s. There is little of the gun-toting I often associate with Hong Kong cinema — both stars are now over 60 — but the result is still a tense story of greed and corruption.

Are their stories reliable? Does anyone know the truth?

Leung plays Ching Yat Yin, a Chinese engineer who sneaks into the city state in the 1970s hoping to make his fortune. Demonstrating a willingness to swindle richer men, he begins a swift rise to vast wealth, enjoying his revenge on the British bankers who once treated him with contempt. But who are his secret backers, and is his success real — or simply a vast Ponzi scheme? Lau plays the anti-corruption investigator who dedicates his life to finding out.

Chong, directing as well as writing, says he was inspired by the childhood sight of friends’ parents becoming suddenly rich and then equally suddenly poor as the market boomed and then went bust. He cuts back and forth between the narratives of Ching’s co-conspirators as they recall events for the police. Are their stories reliable? Does anyone know the truth?

If the details of the tale are at times confusing, the grand narrative sweeps along. Filming, somehow, in a Hong Kong locked down by Covid, Chong has captured the crassness of the get-rich-quick 1980s.

Both stars can still hold the camera, and the moments when they share the screen are electric. After watching it, I went back to Infernal Affairs, which I recalled as a violent movie, and was surprised to find only one shoot-out. It was, like The Goldfinger, an action thriller of the mind.

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