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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Made in Hong Kong (1997)


Starring: Sam Lee, Neiky Hui-Chi Yum, Wenders Li, Amy Tam, Carol Lam, Chan Tat-yee and Doris Chow
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 21 September 2020

“My name is Mid-Autumn. Haven’t been to school since junior high.” Thus begins the tale of three young people on the dead end streets of 1997 Hong Kong. Guerrilla filmmaking at its finest.

If anyone ever needed inspiration for going it alone to independently produce and direct a film that is solely and completely one’s own vision, it is the example of director Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong. Chan could have had HK$ 2 million to do the film but balked because he knew with that money came opinion, input and yes/no approval. Chan’s ally, Andy Lau, believed in him and told him he could have everything his way for the impossibly lowball budget of HK$ 500,000.

Even in 1997 this was practically undoable. Chan set out to do the undoable: amateur cast, director of photography Sing-pui in a career doldrum at the time, ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) defiantly done in the scene locations, cast and crew who are friends of friends, no location permits (when they were chased away they doubled back and shot anyway or came back the next day) - and - this makes him beloved in the Roger Corman firmament: all film was short ends and outdated leftovers that came out of company vaults for free. Let’s be clear about this last element. Even though film stock is expired, if it has been put back in the vault, it has a considerable life expectancy. Chan’s spiritual sense (and there’s no better word for it) helped him choose the best of the best in this treasure.

The film (108 min) is not a quickie length. Neither is Chan restricted by poverty in his technical mis en scene. There are hand held shots for dashing through mayhem, followed immediately by Gibraltar-steady stick shots (tri-pod) and the moment you think you can’t expect it, a delicate dolly-rack pull back for that gift of contemplation. In short, Chan’s alphabet of camera work is A to Z.

There is a virtuoso shot that still has me puzzled. The camera approaches from behind a young girl on the edge of a high building. Across the canyon of structures is a huge concrete Christian cross. She steps off the edge, the camera dolly’s right up to look down at her blood laced body many stories below. It only took seconds for her to go over and then for camera to catch up and peer down. One continuous shot. Chan must have netted his actress on the high end and had a prepared dead girl on the pavement below. And there I’ve finally figured it out. Two actresses, one up high going over the edge, snatched onto a balcony, and another in a moth wing of blood far below. Agatha Christie would have figured it faster. My problem has been up to this writing that I trusted the reality of what I saw, so galvanizing is Chan’s imagery. I offer this unembarrassedly as testament to my own enthrallment.

There is another scene where Autumn (Lee), his girlfriend and Sylvester, the hindered boy he protects from the triad wannabes, have visited the dead girl’s grave. The cemetery is a vast mountainside clogged with grave stones. They cannot find her grave so they start hopping and bounding atop giant denture-like stones, skipping from one to the other. Needless to say this is appalling to the cultural sensibility but they got away with it due to a friendly descending fog cloud that protected their view from millions of watchful eyes in the city below. The Ching gave them a good hexagram that day

The suicide girl had two blood soaked letters with her. They are taking up the cause to deliver her mail. But Autumn has other burdens. His girl he truly loves is dying of kidney disease. He’s willing to donate one of his. Not so fast, says the bullshit bureaucracy.

Sylvester continues to be fair game for the punkish bullies. Sylvester is so seizure-ridden he bleeds from the nose with a slap from the most nerdy of bullies.

Does anybody make it out alive, you ask? You have to ask that, don’t you? I’m not going to be a spoiler but to say Chan’s story is the finest example of character driven narrative in my memory. What’s a great signature of character driven narrative? Posthumous narration.

Chan wanted to do a film showing the street level year of 1997, the year of the “Handover” of Hong Kong to mainland China. There’s a bit of a soliloquy over the radio at the denouement, quoting Chairman Mao. It’s meant to help. It doesn’t, unless you’re a coffeehouse Maoist. But. I suppose, it’s the thought that counts.

This is one of the world’s great youth-in-crisis films. James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause (1955) is watching in the wings. The similarities are bountiful.

The extras include a wonderful interview with Chan. Inspiring. Other interviews with key personnel. This rack of cinematic truth and heroism makes the whole package a bargain.

I had to laugh when Chan declared to the restoration team: “The hair stays!” At a doorway a human hair is stuck to the latch. He knew the restorers would whisk that away without a second digital thought. He would not let restoration happen unless the hair stayed. Integrity.


John Hufff

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