This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Auteur theory has placed so much focus on the cult of the director that it can often obscure the collaboration inherent to the cinematic process. So it is with Hong Kong action cinema, where it's the crew that often defines the work as a whole, and nowhere is that clearer than with A Moment of Romance (1990). As the feature debut from Benny Chan (Who Am I?, New Police Story), A Moment of Romance contains as many of his stylistic fingerprints as it does the film's producer Johnnie To (Throwdown, Election) and planners Ringo Lam and Wong Jing. To, particularly, claims to have ghost directed a majority of the film—a reminder that job titles can't always be taken as gospel.
Making its UK debut as a physical release courtesy of Radiance Films, A Moment of Romance is a classic of Hong Kong cinema that's yet to have its full due in the West. Set in contemporary Hong Kong, small-time gangster and slick driver Wah Dee (Andy Lau) is brought onto a jewellery heist at the last minute—a sure sign things are going to go wrong—by Triad boss Trumpet (Tommy Wong). Left adrift by his fellow robbers, Dee takes sheltered rich girl Jo Jo (Jacklyn Chien-Lien Wu) hostage, inadvertently setting the fuse for a fiery romance between the pair. Beset on all sides by gangsters who want to kill Jo Jo before she blabs, cops who want to clamp Dee in chains, and Jo Jo's wealthy parents who want to ship her off to Canada, the pair are pitched halfway between Romeo and Juliet and Bonnie and Clyde.
Everything in A Moment of Romance is heightened to great effect, from the whirlwind love affair between Dee and Jo Jo to the fountains of blood squibs and pillars of fire in the excellent staged action sequences. Lathered in neon and shot through with an aching urban malaise, this is a piece as defined by kinetic violence as it is by slow motion stares into the middle distance, extreme close-ups clouded in steam, and cigarettes hanging cooly from upturned lips. That it's also a film that garners the accolade of Most Unexpected Carlsberg Product Placement speaks to its oscillating tones, veering from swooning romance to the cartoonish violence of Dee braining someone with a crate of beer in a pillow case.
Under tutelage from giant-in-the-game Johnnie To, Benny Chan is full of the same visual ticks as his master, affording the audience opportunities to breathe amongst the knee-popping violence and elevating the more prosaic moments to high drama. During a particularly violent brawl, we cut to a slow zoom in on an elevated ornamental shrine, detritus flying through the lower half of the frame in this strange moment of still. Later, a sequence of Wah Dee smashing a store window to get his bride a worthy wedding dress is slowed to a crawl, the smash of glass shot from multiple angles to capture his unbridled passion. Needless to say, this is a real delight from top to bottom.
As for Radiance's transfer, taken from the original camera negative, it looks gorgeous, capturing both the richness of the block red neon and the warm natural colours. Of note in the special features is David Desser's new visual essay on the intricacies of the film's placement within the wider Hong Kong canon, a great primer for new converts and old stalwarts alike. Likewise, an interview with Benny Chan helps clarify the role Johnnie To took during production, reframing To's bolder claims about his involvement. As far as physical debuts go, you couldn't ask for a better one, making this a must have for arthouse and action heads alike.
- 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
- Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
- Archival audio interview with Benny Chan who discusses his start in the industry, A Moment of Romance, and his collaborators on the film (2016, 21 mins)
- In Love and Danger: HK Cinema Through A Moment of Romance – A new visual essay by critic and Asian cinema expert David Desser on the genre tropes in A Moment of Romance and their use in Hong Kong cinema (2023, 26 mins)
- Audio commentary by Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng
- Newly translated English subtitles by Dylan Cheung
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
- Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the iconic cast and crew by critic Sean Gilman; and a profile of Benny Chan by Tony Williams, co-editor of Hong Kong Neo Noir
- Limited edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
The Radiance Film blu-ray of A Moment of Romance arrives in the UK on August 21st.