Despite its Bond-adjacent title, The Goldfinger acts as something of a reunion from a different franchise. Re-teaming Andy Lau, Tony Leung, and writer (now writer-director) Felix Chong from the Infernal Affairs series, their newest film charts the rise and fall of a corrupt real-estate tycoon. Spanning decades, and inspired by the Carrian Group––a Hong Kong conglomerate that collapsed in the 1980s––The Goldfinger pits Lau and Leung on opposing sides, with the former playing Lau Kai-yeun, an investigator for the ICAC (Independent Commision Against Corruption) and the latter as Henry Ching, an engineer who works his way through a series of shady deals to run a multi-billion dollar business. 

Principally about the investigation into Ching’s company and the house of cards he built over decades, The Goldfinger is compelling in individual moments. It features two noteworthy performances by Leung and Lau. Such rich set-up notwithstanding, Chong never finds an entry point into this sprawling tale. Instead we are given flash-forwards, flashbacks, speed-ramping, and on and on––all an effort to distract from a heavy-handed, moralistic narrative about the dangers of unrestrained capitalism. It’s a non-linear stew of self-contained scenes that bounce back and forth with little rhyme or reason. 

And while Infernal Affairs spawned Scorsese’s The Departed, Chong seems to reverse his homage, deploying a style that might be described as Wolf of Wall Street-lite. Whereas Scorsese’s film cloaked its critique in a series of meme-able moments, Chong’s stylistic flourishes are never as entertainingly delirious. The Goldfinger simply doesn’t have the confidence or dexterity to pull off this type of narrative. Instead, its constant time-distortions and quick cuts serve to illuminate the hollowness of what’s onscreen.

As Ching gets wealthier his suits get nicer and the scotch flows more freely, but why he is driven to accumulate so much wealth is lost in a screenplay that thinks putting Lau and Leung together is the equivalent of backstory. Motivations are afterthoughts when we can get another scene of Ching screwing someone else out of money. 

The camera does, however, work furiously to give The Goldfinger some forward momentum, constantly spinning around the performers as they monologue their way through a decades-long showdown without audience ever getting the sense behind the animosity, and why Lau’s investigator ostensibly spends his entire professional career going after Leung’s Ching. 

The film only reaches its conclusion after a series of time-jumps that constantly push forward in an effort to tie everything together. One of Lau and Leung’s final meets finds them speaking about their families and the toll such a prolonged legal battle has taken on their lives. It’s a somewhat standard scene that also highlighted something The Goldfinger never really addressed: these two people had lives outside their business and investigation. The scene serves as a microcosm for the project as a whole, telling us these two characters are rivals but never really showed us why or how the rivalry plays out. 

It’s been more than 20 years since Infernal Affairs, and its twisty approach to identity and the crime-thriller genre preceded a renaissance of similar films. The Goldfinger feels behind the curve, never willing to make Ching anything other than an archetype and foil for Lau. One wishes Chong embraced a bit more murkiness with his characters. Still, The Goldfinger isn’t per se bad. It’s consistently watchable, Lau and Leung are capable actors, and the narrative––even if standardized––is interesting. But this is perfunctory in a way Infernal Affairs never was.

The Goldfinger is now in theaters.

Grade: C

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