The Hong Kong gangster genre of films is one that I have been dipping into lately, and I have to admit the formula is followed so closely with almost all the films, that they are starting to blur together. Portland Street Blues tries to mix it up a little, by following the life of one gang member who rises from street punk to head of a triad, but in this case, it is a woman. Unfortunately, that is just about the only exceptional thing about this story, as otherwise it is a pretty much by-the-numbers HK shoot-em-up.
Sister Thirteen (Sandra Ng) is the tough daughter of a not-too-bright, but well-intentioned man who always wanted a son. “Teenie” hustles gullible men by “prostituting” her best girlfriend Yun (Kristy Yang) by luring them to a hotel room, getting their payment in advance, and calling the cops for a surprise raid. Of course the young women make the unfortunate decision to hustle a bad-news crime lord SOB, who takes revenge by killing Teenie’s father. In her quest for revenge, she enters the world of the Hong Kong gangster triads, working her way to be the only woman at the top.
If anything, Portland Street Blues needs to be edited down and tightened up. Rather than an action thriller, the movie is more of a drama, following the life and loves (both men and women) of this exceptional character. Sandra Ng as Sister Thirteen is easily the best thing about the movie. She has this electric toughness, a no-nonsense charm that gets her where she wants to be. But she is also a talented actress that believably shows her tough-as-nails character’s vulnerability.
The movie, coming in at about 104 minutes, unfortunately feels much longer. With an awkward transition from the present to the past at the beginning of the movie, it soon becomes clear that the “flashback” is going to last until the end of the movie, when we are finally back where we started. And it’s too bad that the pacing brings down the movie, because the character of Sister Thirteen is certainly interesting enough to keep our attention for two hours.