Vertigo whodunit plays out on mean streets of Kowloon
Hong Kong cop targets an untouchable suspect in cat-and-mouse crime thriller
In 1924, in the walled city of Kowloon, a notorious area of Hong Kong, a Jack the Ripper-style murderer is mutilating and killing young women.
Sergeant Tommy Lam was assigned the case because the first two victims were Chinese, but the third is a privileged European girl.
His superiors want to turn the case over to Sean Heaney, a new detective parachuted in from Scotland, but Tommy is determined to solve the case in the hope such a triumph might lead to a much deserved but long delayed promotion.
Tommy’s prime suspect is Victor Fung, son of one of the wealthiest men in Hong Kong, which makes him almost untouchable unless Tommy has irrefutable proof.
The world premiere of Nine Dragons, a cat-and-mouse whodunit, comes to Vertigo Theatre as a joint venture between Vertigo, Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Richmond’s Gateway Theatre.
Written by Gateway’s artistic director Jovanni Sy and directed by Vertigo’s artistic director Craig Hall, Nine Dragons features John Ng as Tommy Lam, Daniel Chen as Victor Fung and Toby Hughes as Heaney, with costars Natascha Girgis, Scott Bellis and Duval Lang.
The thriller runs at Vertigo until Sept. 20 before it moves on to Winnipeg in October and finally to Richmond in April.
Toronto-based actor John Ng was born in Kowloon back in the mid-1960s, but it was neither the dangerously serpentine city-within-a-city of the 1920s or the modern highrise suburb of present-day Hong Kong.
“My father and mother fled from China to Hong Kong and ran a little food stall in Kowloon.
“We left Hong Kong in 1974 when I was eight-and-a-half years old. The first time I went back was in 2006. Kowloon had undergone a total transformation. My old neighbourhood was gone,” says Ng.
“Nine Dragons wouldn’t take place there today. It has to take place in the 1920s, when Kowloon was essentially a wild west frontier for the Europeans who had settled in Hong Kong. To them, the danger that lurked in Kowloon made it a kind of wicked playground.”
Ng says his character, Tommy Lam, is a direct product of that city at that time.
“Tommy comes from a poor, working-class district. He’s a very good detective but he has to watch younger or less-experienced and less capable men get promoted because of their social class.
“At that time, the local Chinese officers were paid one-10th of what the European officers were paid and the locals were unable to rise in the ranks. Tommy hopes that, by solving these brutal murders, he’ll finally get the promotion he deserves.”
Like those officers who rise above him, Tommy’s chief suspect, Victor Fung, is privileged, having been raised in England.
“Victor considers himself an Englishman and he carries himself like a European. He doesn’t even speak any Cantonese but he has a secret he needs to tell someone and he decides that someone is Tommy, which is why he befriends ( him).”
Ng says this tricky relationship between Tommy and Victor is what makes Nine Dragons as much a psychological thriller as a whodunit.
“The action of the play becomes a psychological duel between Tommy and Victor, the hunter and the hunted.”
Ng, who is currently one of the stars of the CBC show Kim’s Convenience, graduated from the University of Ottawa in 1995. He worked in fringe shows for 10 years while working at the family’s restaurant.
“In 2005, I finally decided to be serious about acting, so I went to Toronto and began auditioning.”
He was cast in a production of The China Doll which he recalls “put me on the radar in Toronto. This is also where I met Ins Choi, who wrote Kim’s Convenience. We were both starting out and he kept saying we should work together.
“I really appreciate working on TV, but my first love is still the theatre, so I’m grateful and happy when a role like Tommy Lam comes my way.”
John Ng plays Sergeant Tommy Lam, a Hong Kong cop hunting a Jack the Ripper-style killer.