Rob N Roll

European Premiere | In Competition


A nutty mix of crime and comedy bursts out in Albert Mak’s Rob N Roll, released as a Chinese New Year entertainer in Hong Kong and buoyed against stiff competition by strong word-of-mouth support. The film kicks off with action when cops Ginger and Fisher (Maggie Cheung Ho-yee and Leung Chun-hang) are checking an elderly care home run by widower Mo Yung-fai (Richie Jen) but have to run outside as mayhem erupts on nearby streets. Two robberies are unfolding at currency exchanges – one a solo stickup by a thief who quietly pinches $2 million, and the other a much more organised and bloody affair. In that heist, robber Mui Lam-tin (Aaron Kwok, eye-catching with unfashionable duds, buckteeth and cauliflower ears) leads a team armed with guns and grenades to strike a shop and make off with $30 million.

Tin’s plans fall apart when one henchman is killed in the ensuing shootout and another partner in crime loses the cash. That accomplice drops the bag of banknotes in the boot of a taxi to hide it from patrolling policemen, and while he’s not looking the thief from the other robbery grabs it – and accidentally leaves his own smaller bag in the cab. The taxi belongs to Robby (Lam Ka-tung), who turns out to be Mo Yung-fai’s friend, and when he drives away and his licence plate is reported to Tin, a hunt starts up to find the taxi and the millions thought to be inside it.

Albert Mak’s action comedy defies easy description, with so much in store in the twistyturny tale. Inspired by news of the robbery and unaware of the windfall hiding in his mate’s cab, Fai asks Robby to help commit a heist so his elderly home can meet rent increases. Meanwhile Robby, under pressure from his mum and his pregnant wife, could do with more money to start saving for a flat, and he’s pretty relaxed about swindling his mate. A couple of car mechanics turn up and steal wads of cash during a gun and passport swap, and Tin must placate the big boss (David Chiang) who loaned him guns and other gear and now wants his payment.

Hong Kong cinema’s famously sharp tone shifts come in too. Tin, Fai and Robby turn up in personal, character-driven scenes, bringing in stresses, disappointments and dreams. The two cops are eager goofballs voicing frustrations and high hopes as they chase everyone, and the surrounding underworld figures are a comical bunch. But Mak also skips to fierce gun battles and bloodshed, layering familiar action filmmaking into scrappy comedy-drama. Mak and co-writers Ryker Chan and Man Uen-ching have all worked on major films from the Milkyway Image production house, and key themes like loyalty, honour and fate from its celebrated Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai pictures become easy to spot.

Nothing embodies Rob N Roll’s many faces more than Aaron Kwok’s delightful turn as Mui Lam-tin, a far cry from the actor’s usual snappy image. Dressed like a bumpkin and possibly Vietnamese, the outwardly proud Tin is big on loyalty and brotherhood, has a troubled family life, and can snap into being a cold-blooded killer. Kwok brings a great physicality to the role with eccentric body moves, and speaks with a stutter as he switches between languages. With Hong Kong’s crime-film pantheon being such a crowded place, Kwok’s performance in the neat ensemble of messy, self-interested characters plants Rob N Roll among the more engaging and memorable entries in the genre.

Tim Youngs
Film director: Albert MAK
Year: 2024
Running time: 98'
Country: Hong Kong
26/04 - 9:50 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
26-04-2024 21:50 26-04-2024 23:28Europe/Rome Rob N Roll Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine
Online in Italy until the end of the Festival