Director: Fruit Chan
Screenplay: Fruit Chan
Starring: Sam Lee, Neiky Hui-Chi Yim, Wenders Li, Ka-Chuen Tam, Carol Lam Kit-Fong, Doris Yan-Wah Chow, Siu Chung
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 109 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Fruit Chan, who was born in China but emigrated to Hong Kong as a child, began his career working through the studio system as an assistant director (and occasional actor), before directing two mainstream films himself, a comedy called Wu ge ji mo de xin and a horror movie called Finale in Blood. Chan wasn’t happy with the direction his work was heading though and wanted to make his own film on his own terms.
With the imminent handover of Hong Kong from British colonial rule back to Chinese control, there was unease in the region during 1996 and ‘97. People weren’t sure what would happen to Hong Kong after the transition. Chan felt this sense was so palpable, he wanted to make a film about it. He didn’t want a mainstream studio involved though, thinking they would ruin it. So he decided to do it himself.
Raising 500,000 HKD (a quarter of what the studio would have allocated for the project) Chan pulled in favours wherever he could to gather an occasionally unpaid crew (meaning it would often change during production and call for people to take on a variety of roles) and asked around at studios and labs he had worked with to scavenge spare bits of film.
This gamble paid off, as the resulting film, Made in Hong Kong, went on to storm the 1998 Hong Kong Film Awards, winning Best Picture as well as 13 other awards at various festivals, on top of being selected as Hong Kong’s entry to the Best Foreign Language Film at that year’s Oscars (though it didn’t get nominated).
The film has since drifted off into obscurity though and a DVD release never appeared in the UK (at least as far as I could see online). Thankfully, Eureka have got their hands on a 4K remastered print of the film and are releasing it on Blu-ray. Being a great lover of Asian cinema, I gave it a watch and my thoughts follow.
Made in Hong Kong follows the trials and tribulations of a trio of Hong Kong teenagers. Our main focus is Autumn Moon (Sam Lee), a high school dropout who lives with his mum and makes a little cash collecting money for a local gang boss (Sang Chan). On one such job, he comes across Ping (Neiky Hui-Chi Yim), also out of school and living with her mother. Moon takes a shine to Ping and the pair become close, though we soon discover Ping is terminally ill with a kidney disease.
The third teenager is Sylvester (Wenders Li), another wayward soul who has an unnamed mental disability. Moon acts like his big brother, protecting him from the relentless bullying he’s subjected to.
One day, Sylvester comes across the body of a girl, Susan (Ka-Chuen Tam in flashbacks), who’s committed suicide, and takes two letters she had with her. The trio pass one of these on to the boy of whom it’s addressed to, but can’t bring themselves to pass the other onto Susan’s parents. They wonder what drove the girl to kill herself and Moon repeatedly has wet dreams about her at night.
A while later, after his mother disappears and he gets into trouble with a rival gang, Moon takes on a hitman job, in order to earn more money to help support Ping whilst she waits for a kidney donor. The job proves too much for the young man though and it kicks off a downward spiral of problems for the trio.
I was very impressed with Made in Hong Kong. What I particularly appreciated was how it balanced styles and tones. In an interview included on the disc, Chan describes how he wanted to make a character-driven film, not a thematically-driven one. By that, I presume he means rather than make the ‘message’ take centre-focus, he wanted it to be all about the characters but have a subtext lurking under the surface (i.e. the public reaction to the handover).
Chan also discusses the perceived difference between ‘mainstream’ and ‘art-house’ cinema in his interview (i.e. the former being designed to entertain and the latter being ponderous and ‘serious’). He wanted to straddle the two, in a way, by making a film that had depth and weight but also could engage an audience the way a mainstream film does. He does that brilliantly here by blending a lo-fi, loosely plotted indie aesthetic with genre tropes from violent crime dramas. It makes for a film that’s gripping to watch but still retains a thought-provoking and artistically-inclined spirit.
Tonally it achieves something special too, in how it handles the great tragedies inherent in its story. Rather than wallow in misery or milk tears from its audience as they watch these three young people struggle in life, Chan uncovers beauty and a touch of poetry in their tragedy. It does this partially through imbuing the film with a youthful energy. This isn’t done by throwing the camera around, using loud music or editing frantically. Instead, it’s done through the raw nature of the performances and low-tech production. The latter doesn’t mean the film looks bad though, in-fact I’d say it looks great. There’s a natural beauty to the cinematography and there are a few quite stylish sequences throughout.
The cast are excellent too. Largely unknowns with little-to-no screen experience, the young actors embody their characters with natural ease. Lee is particularly good as our chief protagonist, perfectly balancing cheeky charm with a hidden vulnerability. It’s no wonder he went on to enjoy a prolific and successful acting career as an adult. The chemistry between Lee and Yim is incredibly effective too.
The banter and relationship between the young leads also help make this a fantastic ‘hanging out’ movie, on top of the political subtext and brief flashes of violent genre tropes. I could happily watch the trio mess around, causing mischief and ribb each other for another hour or so, even without any more plot.
Overall then, it’s a fantastic film that’s brimming with life and takes a uniquely beautiful view of tragedy that belies its rough, raw style. As such, it comes highly recommended.
Made in Hong Kong is out now on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The picture looks fantastic. Grain is nicely handled, as are the colours (which have been altered from the originally inconsistent shots in the original, but Chan gave his approval). The image is sharp and detailed too. The audio is difficult to rate as it was originally quite rough anyway, with often overpowering background sound due to the way it was recorded. I imagine the restoration team has done as well as they could though.
There are a few special features included in the package:
– LIMITED EDITION O-CARD SLIPCASE (2000 Copies Only)
– 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K digital restoration
– Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
– Optional English subtitles
– New interview with director Fruit Chan
– New interview with producer Doris Yang
– New interview with producer Daniel Yu
– New interview with Marco Muller, former director of the Locarno Film Festival
– A collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; and an archival interview with director Fruit Chan
The interviews are all decent but Chan’s is the clear standout. It’s notably longer than the others (running close to 45 mins) and he talks about the inspiration behind the film as well as how it was made on the cheap without studio interference. He also discusses the perceived differences between art-house and mainstream cinema, which is interesting.
I didn’t receive the booklet, unfortunately, but these are usually invaluable.