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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer; Star interviews; Making of Protégé; “About Drugs” featurette.

HONG Kong director Derek Yee aims to uncover the harsh reality of the drugs trade with his new film Protégé and succeeds in delivering a dark, depressing exploration of the way it corrupts and destroys lives both from within and outside.

Nick (Daniel Wu) is an undercover narcotics agent who has managed to penetrate deep into the heart of Hong Kong’s lucrative heroin trade. After eight years, he is poised to become the protégé to one of the key players in the game, named “Banker” (Andy Lau), a ruthless businessman and devoted family man.

But as Nick finds himself on the verge of discovering the secrets of The Golden Triangle, his cover is threatened by bungling fellow cops and his reluctant relationship with a drug-addicted single mother, Jane (Zhang Jingchu), her daughter and estranged husband (Louis Koo).

Opening with a grim shot of a woman overdosing on heroin as her child looks on, Yee’s film continues to provide an intensely realistic insight into the way that drug trafficking shatters lives.

It also combines police procedural elements with family melodrama, as well as the odd hard-hitting action sequence. As such, it’s got something to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

But it’s at its best when examining the conflicting loyalties of Wu’s central character and his inability to understand what makes heroin so appealing in the first place. His journey of discovery makes for riveting viewing and even takes us deep into the Golden Triangle to provide an extra element of intrigue.

There’s strong support, too, from Lau’s unscrupulous “Banker”, whose capacity for violence grows as the film progresses, and Zhang Jingchu as the mother desperate to kick her habit for the benefit of her child.

Come the downbeat conclusion, viewers may feel as world-weary as Wu’s protagonist but they’ll certainly hold the impressively unflinching Protégé in very high esteem.

In Cantonese/Thai with subtitles

Certificate: 18
Running time: 106mins
UK DVD Release: September 8, 2008