In 2002, Infernal Affairs electrified audiences with its cat-and-mouse tale of an undercover cop and police mole locked in a battle of wits. Director Andrew Lau assembled an all-star cast led by Tony Leung and Andy Lau, who generated crackling chemistry as the story’s dueling protagonists. The movie became an instant classic, spawning two sequels and a Martin Scorsese remake, The Departed. Now, 20 years later, Leung and Lau reunite in The Goldfinger, hoping to conjure up some of that old magic.
Written and directed by Infernal Affairs co-writer Felix Chong, The Goldfinger promises a glitzy look at financial crime in 1980s Hong Kong. Leung plays a rags-to-riches tycoon whose business empire is built on deception, while Lau portrays the investigator gunning to bring him down. With its Wolf of Wall Street swagger and Goodfellas energy, the crime saga seems poised to deliver flash and sizzle.
But don’t let the pedigree fool you. For all its visual pizzazz, The Goldfinger offers more style than substance. It takes the stranger-than-fiction tale of the Carrian Group conglomerate’s meteoric rise and calamitous fall, and turns it into a superficial thrill ride. Sure, the movie will entertain, but it lacks the psychological depth and nuance that made Infernal Affairs a modern classic. Still, it’s worth tuning in to see Tony Leung work his roguish charm, even if The Goldfinger ultimately rings hollow. Strap in for a glitzy, albeit shallow, trip back to the greed-fueled 80s.
Riches to Riches: Ching’s Rise and Fall
In the early 1970s, a penniless Chinese engineer named Henry Ching arrives in Hong Kong, hoping to make it big. But his engineering career fizzles fast. Down on his luck, Ching stumbles into real estate, pulls an audacious stunt, and bags his first million. Posing as a wealthy tycoon, Ching pressures a reluctant buyer into closing a deal with a developer. He ain’t rich, but he sure acts the part.
Emboldened, Ching hustles his way to the top using cunning, deception, and sheer bravado. By the 1980s, he sits atop a vast business empire called the Carmen Group. He manipulates the stock market and grows filthy rich through fraud. But his house of cards starts teetering when a small stock crash sparks suspicions.
Enter Lau Kai-yuen, a senior investigator with Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. Meticulous and principled, Lau commits to exposing Ching’s web of lies. As he and his team interview Ching’s shady associates, they unravel the tycoon’s transgressions.
Meanwhile, Ching furiously tries to avoid any accountability. He bribes officials, intimidates witnesses, and even resorts to murder. Ruthless in business and beyond, Ching will stop at nothing to keep his fortune and stay out of handcuffs.
Lau, ever dogged, sacrifices his career and family life to bring Ching to justice. But nailing the Teflon tycoon proves tricky. Whenever Lau gets close, Ching slips away, aided by his wealth, power and connections.
As the cat-and-mouse game plays out, neither man’s motivations become clear. What truly drives Ching’s relentless greed and Lau’s tireless crusade? The Goldfinger offers little insight into the psyches of its central figures. Their inner lives remain locked away like cash in a Swiss bank account.
In the end, Ching’s house of cards collapses, but not before he goes on a decade-long run as Hong Kong’s king of corruption. The Goldfinger tracks his stratospheric rise and equally steep fall, while keeping the enigmatic tycoon’s true nature tantalizingly out of reach.
Discover the Unvarnished Truth of Hong Kong’s Healthcare and Journalism: Delve into the gritty and unflinching world of Hong Kong’s elder care and journalism with our in-depth review of “In Broad Daylight.” This film exposes the harsh realities and systemic failures in a way that demands attention. Read our comprehensive review of “In Broad Daylight” and be prepared for a film that doesn’t hold back.
Scorsese Lite: Familiar Themes with Lesser Impact
With its focus on twisted financial ambition, The Goldfinger invited comparisons to Martin Scorsese crime epics like Goodfellas, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Like Scorsese, director Felix Chong revels in depicting the glossy excess and amorality of the business elite. But where Scorsese finds psychological depth, Chong mostly stays on the surface.
The Goldfinger echoes classic Scorsese in both structure and energy. The film bounces through decades with amped-up narration, much like Goodfellas. Ching’s fraudulent stock schemes evoke Wolf’s pumped-up broker shenanigans. Scenes of lavish partying feel plucked straight from Scorsese’s gallery of garish rich folk.
But Scorsese digs beneath the glitz to uncover what motivates his crooks and cops. In Goldfinger, the inner lives of Ching and Lau remain cryptic. Scorsese studies obsession; Chong manufactures spectacle. Goldfinger entertains but offers little meaningful insight.
With Tony Leung now playing the villain, The Goldfinger also inverts Infernal Affairs, the classic that paired Leung and Lau 20 years ago. Their role reversal adds a delicious tension, letting two consummate actors explore new shades of darkness and light.
But again, the opportunity gets wasted. Infernal Affairs spun a complex morality tale with each man wrestling demons on both sides of the law. The Goldfinger denies its leads any substantive duality, flattening them into cardboard cutouts: Lau the uptight cop, Leung the flashy crook. Their conflict engages but feels surprisingly one-note given the actors’ chemistry.
The film does thoughtfully explore themes of perception and illusion. Ching builds his empire by crafting a self-made image to fool the public, investors, and even himself. His business runs on inflated perception rather than tangible assets. Lau, meanwhile, sees through the deception to the ugly truth beneath.
Here, The Goldfinger intriguingly questions the nature of financial power and how it often rests on collective belief in lies. But again, the idea gets presented superficially without mining deeper metaphysical implications.
There are hints of social commentary around class and colonialism as nouveau riche Ching bumps against old moneyed British elites. But the movie fails to pierce the insular bubble of the Hong Kong upper crust to say something meaningful about that unique time and place. We’re left with a surface-deepglance at the era lacking resonance and humanity.
The Goldfinger promised a return to the complexity and depth of Infernal Affairs. But with thinly sketched characters and thematic shallowness, it plays like a Scorsese knockoff stranded in a gilded cage, sans the insight and humanity. In the end, it rings hollow.
A+ Actors, C- Characters
Tony Leung slips into the role of Henry Ching like a tailored Italian suit, perfectly accentuating his roguish charm. He captivates in rags and seduces in riches, hinting at darker depths without fully revealing the man within. Even when the script falters, Leung’s magic keeps us invested.
As dogged investigator Lau Kai-yuen, Andy Lau does admirable work with an underwritten role. He underplays effectively but struggles to make the stoic cop compelling. Lau nails the world-weariness but misses the inner fire that could have made Lau mesmerizing.
The two stars ignite the screen when sharing scenes. Their verbal sparring crackles with tension as cop and crook match wits. After facing off memorably in Infernal Affairs, hopes were high for an epic confrontation between the two titans. But disappointingly, The Goldfinger never delivers that explosive payoff scene.
The supporting cast gives able assistance led by Charlene Choi as Carmen, Ching’s savvy secretary turned corporate honcho. She projects steely determination to survive in a man’s world, providing a striking counterpoint to Ching’s brazen swagger.
Veteran actor Simon Yam makes a charismatic ally and foe as Ching’s partner-turned-adversary. But like Lau, even Yam’s considerable talent can’t overcome thin characterization.
That’s The Goldfinger’s Achilles heel: intriguing performances without the depth of character to match. Beyond Ching’s insatiable greed and Lau’s philosophical righteousness, we learn little about what animates these men. And side characters barely qualify as one-dimensional.
With its sprawling timeline, The Goldfinger introduces scores of figures fluttering in and out of Ching’s orbit. But most remain blurry extras viewed from a distance. Only Ching lands a starring role in this story, when a brilliant ensemble might have enriched the saga.
In the end, The Goldfinger feels like a missed opportunity to craft complex characters worthy of its acclaimed stars. Leung’s hypnotic presence papers over the script’s shallow psychology. But even his heavy lifting can’t redeem a parade of hollow cutouts where riveting figures should stand. For all its style, the film disappoints in the substance department.
All That Glitters: Dazzling Style, Hollow Substance
Visually speaking, The Goldfinger is an absolute knockout. Production designer Eric Lam crafts 1980s Hong Kong as an irresistibly sleek playground for the rich. The luxurious sets and dapper costumes pop with glossy extravagance. Director Felix Chong conducts it all with an expert eye, bursting with stylish flair.
The propulsive score by Day Tai fuels the breathless pace, accented by jazz-handed musical numbers celebrating ambition’s giddy heights. Ching crowd surfing a horde of ecstatic stockbrokers reveals the seductive thrill of untamed capitalism.
These technical elements work wonderfully in harmony to capture the surface pleasures of a society intoxicated by greed. The problem lies in what lingers underneath.
In contrast to the corporate glitter, we periodically glimpse Lau’s humble home life. But this feels less like meaningful juxtaposition than strained artifice. The attempt to ground the story falters amidst all the gleaming artifice.
As in Chong’s previous film, Project Gutenberg, ambition again outpaces execution. The Goldfinger utterly seduces the senses but leaves the mind yearning for more substance.
The script’s convoluted time jumps also frustrate engagement. The decade-spanning story chronicles an epic rise and fall, but the fractured timeline muddles as much as it illuminates. Motives and relationships feel disconnected by all the temporal ping ponging.
Chong clearly did his directorial homework, diligently aping Scorsese and De Palma with freeze frames, voiceover, and long tracking shots. It’s an able stylistic mimicry but lacks the visionary soul of its influences.
Perhaps The Goldfinger functions best as a sensuous experience not meant to bear deeper scrutiny. Like its fictional tycoon, the movie plays brilliantly on surfaces while deflecting attention from the void beneath.
It’s a hollow victory, but viewers who surrender to the spell may find ample sensory treasure to savor. Just don’t expect the resonant highs and poignant lows of Scorsese’s best. The Goldfinger deals strictly in the glistening and seductive, not the insightfully human. Dazzling to behold but ultimately insubstantial.
The Final Verdict: Fun But Forgettable
Like a flashy impostor, The Goldfinger distracts with surface charm while lacking deeper substance. It reunites Tony Leung and Andy Lau in hopes of recapturing Infernal Affairs’ magic, but fizzles next to that 2002 classic.
Despite the firepower of its leads, Goldfinger misuses their talents on a lightweight crime romp. Leung dazzles as always, but even he can’t fill the hollow core of a thinly sketched tycoon. There are mercurial flashes signaling untapped depths, but no revelatory plunge into murky psyche.
Lau brings gravitas but remains similarly hampered by superficial writing. And instead of an epic confrontation, their sparring feels more like casual banter between pals.
The Goldfinger offers a fun glimpse into the unbridled greed and glamour of 1980s Hong Kong, when tycoons lived larger than Don Corleone. It’s an entertaining spiritual companion to Scorsese’s portraits of hollow men atop corrupt empires.
But Scorsese digs beneath the decadence to expose uncomfortable truths while Goldfinger revels in surfaces. Beyond the sensuous style, there is scant resonance to lift the story above fluffy escapism.
Casual viewers or fans of flashy crime sagas may find enjoyment in this well-tailored trifle. Yet for those who cherish Infernal Affairs, The Goldfinger pales beside that modern classic’s incisive character studies. It disappointingly deals in facile pleasures rather than plumbing darker complexities.
Still, it’s worth seeing legends Leung and Lau reunite, even if expectations outweigh results. Like Lau’s quixotic investigator, viewers may leave unsatisfied but also itching for another round. The Goldfinger won’t rock any worlds, but it delivers temporary big-screen bliss for Tony Leung aficionados. A disposable crowd-pleaser that could leave a lingering desire for the genuine article.
The Goldfinger aims for the scintillating character studies and thematic depth that made Infernal Affairs an instant classic, but ends up gilding a shallow core with only surface pleasures. While Tony Leung exudes roguish charm and Andy Lau lends gravitas, they are both failed by thin characterization in this Scorsese knock-off. Amidst all the stylish flair, the lack of meaningful psychological insight renders The Goldfinger a hollow triumph.
- Slick, stylish direction with gorgeous production design
- Tony Leung's magnetic performance
- Some entertaining moments of over-the-top excess
- Strong supporting cast like Charlene Choi and Simon Yam
- Superficial treatment lacks psychological depth
- Underdeveloped characters beyond the central duo
- Convoluted narrative structure and time jumps
- Fails to deliver an epic confrontation between the leads
- Feels derivative of superior crime epics like Goodfellas