Director: Mabel Cheung
Screenplay: Alex Law, Chi-Yeuh Low
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Cherie Chung, Danny Bak-Keung Chan, Gigi Suk Yee Wong, Fu-Sheng Wu, Yung-Cho Ching
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: TBC

When you think about a Chow Yun-Fat film, you’re likely to think action – be it the ‘heroic bloodshed’ films he made with John Woo or the period martial arts epics he starred in, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, the actor made a wide range of films in his native Hong Kong, particularly in the first decade of his career before he hit the big time.

During this early period, Chow was actually believed to be “box-office poison”, with most films that he starred in failing to bring in much revenue. This didn’t deter director Mabel Cheung from selecting him for her first solo effort behind the camera though, the romantic drama An Autumn’s Tale (a.k.a. Chau tin dik tung wa). Cheung felt he was perfect for the lead role, so paid no heed to the warnings.

Cheung and her producers got lucky, however, in that A Better Tomorrow was released shortly before the shoot began for An Autumn’s Tale. John Woo’s seminal gangster film catapulted Chow into stardom and likely helped aid the financial success of this low-key drama. It meant agents and producers fought to try to get the actor to stay in Hong Kong and work on other projects instead but Chow stuck to his word and travelled to New York for the production. His availability was restricted though, so they had to shoot his material quickly.

Cheung’s choice of casting and Chow’s dedication paid off, as the film not only took an impressive HK$25,546,552 at the local box office but won several awards, including Best Picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards and Best Leading Actor at the Golden Horse Awards.

88 Films are stepping into new territory by releasing An Autumn’s Tale and Immortal Story on Blu-ray this month, as part of a range of of Hong Kong rom-com/dramas. Intrigued, I got hold of a copy of the former title and my thoughts follow.

An Autumn’s Tale centres around Jennifer (Cherie Chung), a wide-eyed young woman from Hong Kong, who travels to New York City to reunite with her boyfriend Vincent (Danny Bak-Keung Chan) and pursue her studies. Upon arrival, she’s greeted by a distant relative, Samuel Pang (Chow Yun-Fat), who’s promised to put her up during her stay. Streetwise and world-weary, Samuel (who likes to go by the nickname ‘Figurehead’) helps Jennifer navigate the bustling city.

Disheartened upon discovering Vincent has a new girlfriend, Jennifer finds solace in Samuel’s unexpected kindness. As the vibrant hues of autumn paint New York, a delicate bond blossoms between them, challenging their initial assumptions about love and connection.

Hong Kong films of the 80s and early 90s, or at least the ones that tend to be popular in the West, are not known for their subtlety. Comedy can often be on the crude side and overbaked melodrama tends to be a common approach. I’d heard An Autumn’s Tale bucked this trend though, which was part of the reason why I was interested in seeing it. Whilst I’m quite happy for my action and comedy films to veer into over-the-top territory, I tend to prefer dramas that feel natural and nuanced.

Therefore, I was a little disappointed when I found An Autumn’s Tale to paint with quite broad strokes as it began to play out. However, once the film settled in, particularly in the second half, I found its clunkier moments faded away and, overall, the drama that unfolds is refreshingly understated. It all builds to a suitably poignant and relatively subtle finale too.

The film looks at the immigrant experience – with characters learning to find their place in a new setting whilst facing division and a little prejudice. The writer was partly inspired by Midnight Cowboy, wanting to write a different spin on the idea of two lost souls helping each other find themselves in a big city.

It’s perhaps not a wholly new concept but it’s well executed. Particularly good use is made of New York as a location. There’s a grimy, rough look to reflect the poor conditions the pair face but also a warmth and a wealth of colour to their surroundings, suggesting their relative poverty isn’t dampening their spirits.

The performances are excellent too. Chow is lively and charismatic, lighting up the screen whenever he appears. This is perfectly countered by Chung, who plays a much more toned-down character who dials in her emotions. It makes for a wonderful central pair that effectively drive the character-focused story.

So, overall, whilst An Autumn’s Tale begins in a fairly brash fashion, the film becomes more sensitive as it moves on. With strong central performances and visuals that capture the grubby beauty of New York, it’s a sweet tale of finding oneself in a different world.

Film:

An Autumn’s Tale is out on 29th July on region B Blu-Ray, released by 88 Films (pre-order it here). The restoration is fantastic. Colours are rich and the picture is clean, detailed and natural-looking. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks, though these have been compressed. There’s a choice of 5.1 or mono Cantonese audio. I opted for the latter and thought it sounded great.

Special Features

FEATURES CLEAR PLASTIC O-RING
– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
– Cantonese Mono
– Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD MA
– Newly Translated English Subtitles
– Interview with Alex Law
– Interview with Mabel Cheung
– Theatrical Trailer
– Stills Gallery
– Reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by Mark Bell & original poster

You don’t get a great number of extra features, but what is included is excellent.

In an interview, director Mabel Cheung opens by talking about her career and how female directors were rare in Hong Kong at the time. She then goes on to discuss the production of An Autumn’s Tale. She has some wonderful stories to tell, such as how Chow Yun-Fat would sign production stills so they could sell them to get better catering on the low-budget production.

Writer Alex Law talks about his focus on character in his scripts and how he often draws from real-life experiences, a mixture of his own and those he hears from friends and colleagues. He also discusses his inspiration behind this particular film and his experiences during and after the production. It’s a lovely piece.

I didn’t receive a retail copy of the disc but, I must say, the clear plastic o-ring with the leaves on is a lovely idea and looks great in the images I’ve seen.

Overall, whilst lacking a commentary like most of 88 Films’ East Asian action releases, the material here is of great value and the film itself is decent too. For those looking for a Hong Kong film without any martial arts or gunplay, it comes warmly recommended.

Disc/package:

An Autumn's Tale (1987) - 88 Films
Film
Disc/Package
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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