Man Wanted

Man Wanted (1994)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Simon Yam, Yu Rong Guang, Christy Chung
Extras: Trailers, Biographies

Since director John Woo’s work has caught the eyes and attention of American audiences, gritty Hong Kong action movies have become an integral part of the genre for many fans. In "Man Wanted" director Benny Chan pitches Simon Yam and Yu Rong Guang against each other in an exhilarating action thriller that has now been released on DVD by Tai Seng. Hwa (Simon Yam) is an undercover inspector working on a case to catch the drug lord Feng (Yu Rong Guang). He has been climbing the ladder to success quickly within Feng’s little empire, and has gained the kingpin’s uninhibited trust. He is now Feng’s right hand man and the time to finally bust the criminal ring has finally come. During a sting operation Hwa reveals his true identity and intents to put Feng to jail, but a desperate escape attempt costs Feng his life.

With the case solved and the drugring destroyed, Hwa reclaims his police identity and tries to get his regular life back. Ever so often he runs into Yung (Christy Chung), Feng’s former girlfriend, when she gets caught in her own criminal activities. In order to help her escape the treadmill of crime, he offers his help, not knowing that Yung is secretly in love with him. Repeatedly she contacts him, only to be close to him and one night, during the moon festival, Feng suddenly reappears to settle a bill that is still open.

Pulling all registers, "Man Wanted" is a furious action thriller with a truly explosive showdown. The film makes great use of the ragged downtown Hong Kong locations and spiced up with the film’s beautiful cinematography, it creates the perfect blend of abrasive danger and romance. Yu Rong Guang is the cool calculating macho you would expect from his part, but without the sleaze oftentimes found in Western portrayals of such characters. Guang’s almost sympathetic portrayal of Feng always shows us the man behind the hardened façade of the drug kingpin, never letting the part overpower his good side. Simon Yam on the other side of the law is quite the opposite, a man who tries to harden himself to the tragedies evolving around him. Yam’s portrayal is honest and rooted, and especially the film’s showdown sequence gives him plenty of latitude to explore the different sides of the character.

Despite a few inconsistencies in the script, the story is well told, captivating the viewer from the beginning, as things start to unfold. Effectively pumping up the volume, giving the viewer time to take a breather and then going at it full throttle over and over again, is the recipe that makes "Man Wanted" so effective. Sometimes the movie catches the viewer completely by surprise at breakneck speed and with a very hard edge, leaving you dazzled, wondering if what you just saw really happened. In other moments, the film hits very romantic notes making you slowly forget about what just happened, only to pull the viewer and the film’s characters back into the action at alarming speed.

Like their previous domestic releases, Tai Seng have once again delivered a transfer on this disc that is cleaned up and generally better looking than most Hong Kong movies. However, the noise reduction employed on this transfer seems to result in a noticeably soft image at times. Edges blur and colors start to bleed into each other in a number of scenes that were presumably heavily digitally enhanced to maintain the overall image quality. Unfortunately digital techniques to remove speckles and dust on poor film prints always come at a price, and in this transfer of "Man Wanted" the drawbacks are becoming quite evident in multiple scenes. The colors are generally strong and faithfully rendered with good, solid blacks and very good highlights. Some of the outdoor daytime scenes appear overexposed however, with grayish blacks, resulting in a somewhat flat look. Fortunately the compression has been done carefully and dot crawl is at a minimum, although slight compression artifacts are evident throughout the film.

"Man Wanted" contains Cantonese, Mandarin and English language tracks and English subtitles, selectable from the disc’s interactive menu. The menu itself is very stylish, by the way, with a nice design, powerful colors and cool navigation elements. As expected, the disc defaults to the Cantonese language track with English subtitles turned on. To enhance the gritty urban atmosphere of the story, the movie also features a powerful soundtrack consisting mostly of Cantonese pop songs. They truly complement the film and make the story more tangible, firmly rooting it in modern day Hong Kong. The disc also contains a selection of trailers of other DVD releases from Tai Seng in addition to extensive and very exhaustive filmographies and biographies of the actors and the director. This information has once again been masterfully compiled by Tai Seng’s own Frank Djeng, who seems to be a walking encyclopedia of Hong Kong cinema.

The thing that struck me the most about "Man Wanted" was the unpredictable and clever story. Spiced up with great dialogues, interesting characters and impressive locations, the film is beautiful to behold, yet thrilling to watch. Without superficial martial arts sequences, the film uses its narrative elements wisely and places them very precisely in the plot. There is a time for kung fu and there is a time for sheer firepower. "Man Wanted" contains both, and combines them masterfully in a zestful mix that makes this film a first rate action thriller that is highly recommended.