Set in Hong Kong, during a crime-rampant ’70s and ’80s, Dealer/Healer tells us the story of Chen ‘Cheater’ Hua (Lau Ching-wan), a young man living in the run-down Tsz Wan Shan public housing estate. He’s the head of a gang called the 13 Warlocks, with his two best friends Cat (Zhang Jin) and Bullhorn (Gordon Lam) by his side at every turn. As the trio grow older they get involved with double-dealing in the dangerous Kowloon City, where police corruption and crime are at the forefront of life. Crossing drug lord Harley (Louis Koo), Cheater Hua gets caught and ends up facing 5 years in prison, setting himself on a path of redemption to kick his drug habit and help other youths like him get on the straight and narrow.
Dealer/Healer is a colourful film with a solid foundation to build a story upon. Unfortunately, the story jumps all over the places and doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It’s tame and un-compelling, failing to land any major blows, which is disappointing for a film initially centred around drug-lords and corruption – something which should be riveting and uncomfortable.
Peter Chan Shun-chi, the man on which the film is based on, acts as executive producer, but apparently not even having him involved was enough to let the film dive deeper into the seedy world of the criminal underground, or the gritty dank life of a junkie taking from his own supply, losing his wife and nearly destroying his life in the process. The script is clunky and jumps aimlessly from one time-line to the next.
The first half of the film is genuinely interesting, focusing on Cheater Hua’s beginnings, but once it jumps forward to his life of redemption, everything becomes a bit dull. We never focus on his 5 years in prison – the time that set him on the right path, and that feels like a massive part of the story that’s completely overlooked. His attempts to win back his wife, Carol (Jiang Yiyan) fall a little flat and lacks any real emotion, ultimately the whole second half of the film will leave the audience feeling flat.
While the cast are perfectly fine in their performances, the actors alone aren’t enough to save Dealer/Healer, which just finds itself looking like a half-hearted effort at telling a compelling and complex story.