|(All images courtesy Celestial Pictures.)|
IF Friends can be categorized as a fairy tale (a little Grimm, by some measure), then The Delinquent is pure tragedy. This could be said about more than a few of director Chang Cheh's better-known Shaw Brothers movies (like The Assassin or The Heroic Ones), but The Delinquent towers over them all with its unique, increasingly morose tone. Out of all Cheh's attempts to emulate the angst of the "Reckless Youth" found in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), he succeeds here --exceeds, really-- the best. (James Dean's "Jimmy Stark" in RWaC wouldn't last five minutes in this bleak Hong Kong.) However, he wouldn't have created this triumph without the help of three key people: writer Ni Kuang, co-director Kuei Cheh-hung and actor Wong Chung (in his first leading role).
With The Delinquent (released in the US as Street Gangs of Hong Kong), Kuang soloed on the script, writing a sad character study with a strong dose of violence that is always to be expected from a Cheh movie. (Had he done this as a collaboration with Cheh, I'm certain the emphasis would've been more on action.) Limited characterization behind the three lead parts hampers our empathizing with them, to a degree; John is adequately defined, his father has hints of complexity, but Elaine serves no real purpose beyond being rescued by John a couple of times or being an intermediary for him and his mom. (Lily Li gives a good performance, anyway.) Going past these minor problems, Kuang has crafted a cautionary tale where the moral is delivered like a sledgehammer between the eyes.