Hong Kong 1941

Hong Kong 1941 (1983)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Cecilia Yip
Extras: Interviews, Photo Galleries, Production Notes, Trailers

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is the latest studio to begin releasing Hong Kong movies. Since the other Hollywood studios releasing Asian fare have disappointed sorely so far, continually butchering the films or releasing them in shoddy, unwatchable transfers, my hopes were high for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, as the studio is traditionally known for its excellence when it comes to DVD. Let’s see if they live up to their reputation.

"Hong Kong 1941" is the story of friendship during hardship. In 1941 the Japanese invaded Hong Kong and thus began a four-year occupation that was filled by bloodshed and turmoil. Yip (Chow Yun Fat), Kong (Alex Man) and Han (Cecilia Yip) prepare to leave Hong Kong for Australia – the Mountain of Gold, as Yip calls it. Life is hard in Hong Kong for the men, and Yip is being forced into marriage with a man she doesn’t love by her father. So, the three decide to take a boat out of Hong Kong the next morning. But their plans are abruptly coming to an end when the Japanese occupy Hong Kong on that fateful morning. They are forced to stay, but continue to make plans for their leave while trying to make a living as day labors. But every so often, their friendship and loyalty is put to the test under the next government, especially when Yip decides to work for the Japanese.

"Hong Kong 1941" is a wonderful story that feels very real. To a large degree it comes from the authenticity the film creates. Here, we don’t see rich kids in suburban neighborhoods with their artificial problems, but hard-working people barely able to make a living, while trying to keep their spirits up, living for their dream of freedom.
The acting in the film is top notch throughout. It is one of those roles that made Chow Yun Fat the superstar that he became in Hong Kong. Tough, but sensible and romantic, and most importantly, very deliberate and intelligent. It is a very different image than those larger-than-life heroes you typically get to see in Hollywood movies that lends a lot of credibility to the movie.

The film is also beautifully photographed and staged, though not as poetic as one may initially expect. The film is harsh and gritty at times with its depiction of poverty and violence.

I was very glad to see that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is releasing their Hong Kong films with <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfers and the 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> transfer we have here is certainly an improvement over the mane non-<$16x9,anamorphic> import DVDs. Sadly it is not without problem either. The image is very grainy and some edge-enhancement has been applied, creating visible halos around high contrast areas. While it is not nearly as excessive as in Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment’s releases, it is nonetheless distracting and unwelcome. There is also a bit of <$pixelation,pixelation> evident in the transfer – mostly a result of the incredibly grainy image at times. Don’t get me wrong however. While the film does not look like the latest Hollywood blockbuster, the image quality is generally very good and reveals a high level of detail.

The DVD contains an English dub in <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> as well as the original Cantonese language track, also in <$5.1,5.1 channel> Dolby Digital. Running the Cantonese audio by default with English subtitles enabled would be the preferred set-up, but as it stands, Fox defaults to the English track. The audio is clean and without problems. No defects or hiss are audible and the frequency response is well-rounded and natural.

One of the highlight of this disc – and the other Hong Kong releases that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is releasing – is the addition of a few supplements, including new interviews. On this disc we get an interview with Cecilia Yip, as she talks about the film, the production, her costars and her character in the film, as well as an interview with actor Paul Chun. It is great to see these features, which put the disc another notch over the import discs. Trailers, TV Spots, two photo galleries, production notes and a gallery of promotional materials, including posters and lobby cards, is also included, making this a very well-rounded release.

We have seen far too many Hong Kong release being thrown into the market place without any effort or dedication behind them, simply to quickly cash in on names like Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li and other Hong Kong superstars. While this release is not perfect, it clearly shows that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is taking its responsibility more serious that Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Buena Vista Home Entertainment or Artisan. Running 100 minutes, the movie doesn’t appear to be edited, the original audio is supplied, the presentation is certainly remarkable and to top it all off with some nice icing, the studio has even added new interviews and other supplements. I commend 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for their effort and I hope other studios will follow suit in treating these films with the respect they deserve. While we don’t have the elaborate and extremely insightful <$commentary,commentary track> that Tai Seng regularly provides, this is nonetheless a valuable release that is well worth your attention.