Blu-Ray Spotlight: A Moment of Romance
A film produced by the likes of Johnnie To, Ringo Lam, and Wong Jing, Hong Kong’s top crime filmmakers, might sound like it would feel similar to other titles we’ve seen from Hong Kong’s violent stretch of the 80s. But with a shifting landscape in the portrayal of Hong Kong in film particularly through the lens of crime, filmmakers began to push the sub-genre’s boundaries to encompass more pathos and conflict within the tough exterior of a gangland hero with the power of the triads at his command.
Benny Chan is one of these filmmakers, and as a fairly new director the expectations of crime films from the region were already changing but his collaborative work on A Moment of Romance helped solidify the movement’s trajectory into something more personal than a genre picture; Chan helps drive the Hong Kong crime film into meditations on love and personal struggle while making Romance both a great crime film and a great romantic film. It is perhaps because of the near-equal collaboration between To and Chan that the film is so intertwined in its damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t themes of gang loyalty and a doomed romance.
After a botched jewel heist, getaway driver Wah Dee (Andy Lau) takes a woman hostage, Jojo (Wu Chien-Lien), in tandem with commandeering a car for the getaway. But when his accomplices learn of her presence after escaping the cops, Wah Dee prevents them from killing her and starts to develop a forbidden romance with her that puts them both in immediate and grave danger.
A Moment of Romance is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in a 4K restoration of the original camera negative on an AVC-encoded Blu-Ray disc. While there may not be an earlier disc release to compare the visuals to, it can easily be said that the aesthetics of the crime underworld have never looked more vibrant in cinematographers Joe Chan & Wong Wing-Hang’s (Full Contact, Tiger on the Beat & Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow 1–3, respectively) more-than capable hands. At points the film plays different hands in terms of what visual style its representing; darker night-time shots are very characteristic of the crime films that preceded it, while the romance of the film takes on more subtle & sorrowful colors like deep blues and hazy oranges, and the neo-noir portions are dominated by neon pinks, reds and bright artificial greens evocative of the signs that bleed through the blinds of low-rent apartments in the slums of Hong Kong. Film elements are clean and in good repair, as some grain is prevalent but mostly during transitions, but never subtracts from the viewing experience. The only limits of visual quality rub up against the in-camera elements, where details can appear slightly out of focus through the lens used in wider shots. The variance in color grading always heightens the accents but retains a consistent white level and blacks are consistently dark and deep with no evidence of lifting. The only way this film could look better is on a 4K disc, but by how much may only be marginal.
The film is accompanied by a lossless PCM mono track in the original Cantonese with optional English subtitles, translated by Dylan Cheung. The sound is as dynamic as it was on release, although with the quality of recording on board could have been better. However the depth of performances from Lau, Wu, and Richard Ng (as the street-bound gangster wannabe who washes cars for money) are so realistic that they provide the illusion of a more present sense of spatial audio, which of course would be a testament of the restoration work done on the original audio track. Along with this aforementioned feat of sound design, there are no audible hisses, pops, or crackles and all dialogue is rendered clean and clear. The film is also nicely mastered to keep at a consistent level throughout the viewing experience.
A Moment of Romance has a set of special features that are all audio-focused, in a way. There is an archival, audio-only interview with the sole credited director, Benny Chan, a video essay written and narrated by David Desser, and a commentary by Frank Djeng. Details below:
- Archival interview with Benny Chan from 2016 (21 mins. 22 secs.)
- In Love and Danger: HK Cinema Through ‘A Moment of Romance:’ A new visual essay by critic and Asian cinema expert David Desser (25 mins. 59 secs.)
- Audio commentary by Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng
- Trailer (4 mins. 10 secs.)
- Limited edition 28-page booklet featuring new writing on the iconic cast and crew by Sean Gilman; and a profile of Benny Chan by Tony Williams, co-editor of Hong Kong Neo-Noir
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
A Moment of Romance is undoubtedly an important film in the careers of Benny Chan, Andy Lau, and fresh-faced Wu Chien-Lien (whose career took off after this, but within the established treatment of actresses in Hong Kong and China would disappear in their mid-30s, as Sean Gilman writes in the booklet for Radiance), leading Chan to fully direct films with actors such as Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, and again with Lau for A Moment of Romance III along with Wu Chien-Lien yet in a different time period and story.
The balance of Johnnie To and Benny Chan’s direction suggests a convergence that only Wong Kar-Wai could achieve on his own with his 80s debut also starring Lau, As Tears Go By. But here it is at a perfect crossroads; with To’s romantic influence shining through Chan’s action-oriented sensibilities the two create an almost constant equal emphasis on both genre influences that keep the film at an artfully even split. It benefits from one feeding into the other in another association of collaboration that further heightens the source material, and never feels at war with itself or the filmmakers involved and so invested in their visions that this may be one of the great filmic collaborations that has undoubtedly timeless qualities.
This film and its release come highly recommended. A Moment of Romance is available on Tuesday, August 22.
Disclaimer: MVD Visual has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.