Telling the “true” story of murderous, drug-addicted Triad heavy-turned-sober, prolific rehabilitater of young gangster-addicts Peter Chan Shun-chi, Lawrence Lau’s Dealer/Healer belongs to that most enervating of sub-genres: the wannabe epic. Toggling back and forth between the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and the present, it certainly covers enough chronological ground to qualify as “sprawling.” But at 100 minutes, nothing is given enough time to take shape to allow the entirety to congeal into a satisfying generational saga. Besides Lau, potential culprits for this failure are the fact that Chan himself executive produced, and that the production company is Sil-Metropole, which is Hong Kong-based but Mainland China-affiliated, and thus surely helped neuter any “appeal” within the first half’s druggy violence.
Lau Ching-wan is pleasantly morose as protagonist Chen Hua, leader of the 13 Warlocks gang in the rough Tsz Wan Shan public estate (the sprawling houses of which have been awkwardly CGI’d into the background of several shots). The film’s first part follows Chen and his various colorfully named cronies (Cat, Bullhorn) as they stake out turf and tussle with rival leader Harley (scene-stealer Louis Koo) in repetitive fights scored to bad, digitally-processed instrumental rock. Chen also falls in love with Carol (an overwhelmed Jiang Yiyan), loses her to his coke habit, then finally embarks on the dry rehabilitation that dominates the large part of the film. Lau attempts to inject some edginess with random freeze frames, slo-mo, and jump cuts, but it’s not enough to make Dealer/Healer as fun or ambitious as it wants to be.
Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.