Soi Cheang returns triumphantly to Hong Kong genre cinema with this old-school 80s actioner set in Kowloon’s Walled City

Twilight Of the Warriors Walled In_2

Source: Cannes Film Festival

‘Twilight Of The Warriors: Walled In’

Dir: Soi Cheang. China. 2024. 125mins

Soi Cheang’s punchy, peppy thriller will be lapped up like manna from heaven by fans of Hong Kong action cinema. Set in the genre’s salad days, the 1980s, in Hong Kong’s gang-ridden enclave of Kowloon Walled City, it takes delicious advantage of that decade’s clothes, haircuts and pimpy shades.

 A rollicking, fast-paced, stylish actioner

Having topped the Hong Kong box office over its Labour Day holiday release and opening strongly in China, and with deals already locked in for the UK & Ireland, Germany and the US, Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In should appeal to anyone who is up for a rollicking, fast-paced, stylish actioner that is always atmospheric while never taking itself too seriously. Soi has carried the torch recently for the crime-meets-action genre in films ranging from Accident (2009), Motorway (2012), the ultra-dark Limbo (2021) and the flimsily whimsical Mad Fate (2023).

The film’s two-hour adrenalin rush milks the utmost from its setting: Kowloon Walled City, a densely populated city block, now demolished, that was formally an enclave of China within British-administered Hong Kong but, in practice, acted beyond the reach of law enforcement, town planners, the utilities grid and clean sanitation. From above, in shots that are clearly CGI-enriched, the Walled City of the film looks like something out of Blade Runner, a decaying carcass of a place where thousands of people live literally on top of each other.

Actor-singer Raymond Lam is all grit and determination as Lok, an illegal immigrant who, after tangling with triad boss Mr Big (martial arts legend Sammo Hung, oozing avuncular menace) takes refuge in the Walled City. The enclave is ruled over by Cyclone (veteran Hong Kong star Louis Koo), the tough but benevolent godfather whose gang holds sway. Lok begins to find work in some of the many workshops and eateries that take advantage of this dense warren’s free rents and lack of outside interference.

Tempted by the rich pickings of the compensation money that Walled City landlords stand to make when this enclave is dispersed, Mr Big is desperate to get a foothold in the ailing Cyclone’s fiefdom. The real action kicks off comes when the biggest of the landlords, Chau (Richie Ren), discovers a secret about the young Lok that makes him an enemy. Chau’s decision to ask Mr Big and his henchmen to come in and wipe out the feisty young lad probably seemed like a good idea at the time – but these are not people you have any control over, especially not Mr Big’s lieutenant King, a giggling psychopath with supernatural kung-fu powers played with manic glee by Philip Ng.

If the Walled City’s exterior is digitally enhanced, its interior is a triumph of old-fashioned movie artisanship, a settlement that has somehow coalesced into a single enormous organism with everything exposed: wiring, drains, gutters, human frailty, food both before and after it has been eaten. When fights break out, these men are as likely to grab a mop or a blowtorch as a knife. When they fall, they fall down the crevasses between buildings, onto corrugated iron lean-tos, grabbing desperately for aerial wires; when they ascend the stairs again, a motorbike works just as well as a pair of legs. All of these action sequences – and they are legion – are crisply choreographed, high-octane yet always legible.

What we get in between, in a film that features not a single prominent female character, is that old crime-drama dance of male solidarity, selfish calculation and betrayal. But there’s an elegiac twilight note here too in a pre-handover story that charts the end of an era. It’s both an elegy for, and triumph of, Hong Kong genre cinema.

Production companies: Entertaining Power Co. Limited

International sales: Media Asia Film Distribution Ltd

Producers: John Chong, Wilson Yip Wai Shun

Screenplay: Au Kin Yee, Chan Tai Lee, Shum Kwan Sin, Lai Chun, based on the book and manga City of Darkness by Yu-Yi

Cinematography: Cheng Siu Keung

Production design: Mak Kwok Keung

Editing: Cheung Ka Kai

Music: Kawai Kenji

Main cast: Raymond Lam, Louis Koo, Sammo Hung, Terrance Lau, Philip Ng, Tony Wu Tsz Tung, German Cheung, Wong Tak Pun Kenny