Film reviews

Made in Hong Kong (1997) – Blu-ray Review

New from Eureka Entertainment’s reliably consistent Masters of Cinema collection is 1997’s Made in Hong Kong.

Shot on a tiny budget, the film tells the story of Autumn Moon (Sam Lee), a low level mobster accustomed to a violent existence, as he collects debts for a local boss.  His is an existence without an obvious future.   In a disjointed 109-minute running time, one of Moon’s friends is witness to the suicide of young lady, who jumps from the roof of a building in the area.  On her body was two letters.  Though this information is given to us early, much of the first act of the film is concerned with introducing us to this world, and the lives of Moon and his friends.

Once we have got the basic layout, the film pivots to the story of Moon meeting and falling for 16-year old Ping (Neiky Yim), via delivering the letters found on the dead girl.  Finding that Ping has a fatal kidney disease, Moon is keen that he can help his love fund a kidney transplant before it is too late.  When Ping disappears, Moon takes on a contract killing for his boss, and slips further into an existence from which there may be no escape.

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Though fully restored, Made in Hong Kong remains a grainy, slightly washed out work, serving to illuminate the most hopeless aspects of the society of the time.  That said, the image is sharp, and clean.  This is a world that offers its protagonists no hope, no beauty, no sense of optimism in life, and their world comprises an interchangeable series of concrete mazes, in which the poor of the region live.  The film is presented with a basic two-channel audio track, though there is the option to play the film with or without English subtitles – a nice touch to allow a more authentic experience for those who can speak Cantonese.

Approaching the film with the knowledge that the characters are all non-actors led to the concern that this could be a very stiff, underwhelmingly performed work.  On the contrary, director Fruit Chan gets terrific performances from everyone.  This feels authentic, and at times a little fly-on-the-wall in end result.  This is coupled, however, with a desperate lack of consistent focus.

The love story, the letters, the lack of hope all fight to be the dominant theme is a work that pivots between jet black and darkly funny.  As a document of a section of the Hong Kong society of its time, it has value; as a work of storytelling, far less so.  Sometimes it plays like indulgent arthouse, sometime like fly on the wall guerrilla filmmaking; at others it looks like a bloodshot descendant of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.  This disorientating inconsistency is its undoing.

Special features this time comprise a number of interviews.  While most of these are short, we kick off with a 47 minute-long conversation with the director.   After some introductory text, Chan talks to an unseen interviewer off camera.  Putting his experience in context, he talks of his first two pictures being unpleasant experiences, producing unpopular end results.  This led to a five-year hiatus where he had to consider the direction of his career.

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The seed of Made in Hong Kong appears to have been the hand back of the region to China that was on the horizon.  Chan describes the uncertainties and inequalities inherent to Hong Kong at that time, along with the civil unrest that was starting to show itself.   From there he takes us through the writing, funding, and filming, along with the effect the film had on his career, his feelings about the industry as a whole, and the project to restore the film for this release.  His battles to make the work on a negligible budget is probably the most interesting part of the whole feature, as he describes having to use expired film stock to get this made, and how he found non-actors to lead the film.

Attempting to make this a little more dynamic by switching between a couple of cameras, the interview is not helped by being held on such an austere, bland set, that looks like an empty room that has been completely carpeted, walls and all.  Though that has little bearing on the content, it makes this set look a little cheaper than some from the same, illustrious range.  That said, Chan speaks well on all aspects of the production, along with the societal themes he was looking to highlight.  The interview is split into 14 chaptered, themed sections, which can be skipped between: a small, but welcome touch.

The rest of the interviews can be dealt with together, as they are all short.  First is a discussion with producer Doris Yang.  This is circa seven minutes in duration, and is presented in a matter tonally consistent with Fruit Chan’s – same style of introductory graphic, and filmed on the same cold and alienating stage.  Yang discusses her role in the film, and how she got involved.  More time with her would have been welcome.

Producer Daniel Yu’s interview is a little longer, at a little under 13 minutes.  Yu is again on the same cheap set, but unlike the first two interviewees is speaking in English.  The content is of the same style as Yang’s and of the same, standard Blu-ray bonus feature standard.  Finally we have a very short interview with Marco Muller, former director of the Locarno film festival, where the film debuted in 1997.

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None of the bonus features are of a stand out quality, and this may be the most disappointing  offering from the Masters of Cinema range in some time.  The film is, however, the star, and Made in Hong Kong is a clear beneficiary of the aims of Eureka Entertainment to highlight the very best in World Cinema; restoring the films they showcase to the highest possible quality.

The lack of inspiration in the bonus features is entirely understandable, given that it is unlikely that this release will be eyeing big sales figures.  This is a small release for a small market of world cinema fans and Masters of Cinema completists.  As such, this is for enthusiasts only, though the rescuing of the film from relative obscurity in the west is a fine example of exactly what this range is there to do; as such this release is welcome.

Made in Hong Kong is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.

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