August 23rd, 2020, writer/actor/producer/director Benny Chan passed away from nasopharyngeal cancer, first diagnosed in 2019 while shooting the film Raging Fire with Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. Raging Fire did eventually get released in 2021, both in China and internationally, ending his prolific career on a high note. Via Radiance Films, audiences are invited to visit (or revisit) Chan’s first solo feature-length directorial debut, the multi-genre A Moment of Romance (天若有情) (1990) via a brand-new 4K HD restoration, a 2016 archived interview with Chan, a brand-new visual essay from critic and Asian cinema expert David Desser, new feature-length commentary from frequent 88 Films collaborator Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng, and limited edition packaging. It’s a restoration that will delight longtime fans immediately and entice cinephiles and general audiences to take a chance on a Hong Kong action dramedy they’ve yet to experience.
When a heist goes wrong, driver Wah Dee (Andy Lau) separates from his crew to give them a chance at getting away and, in the process of eluding the cops, is forced to take a hostage. Wah Dee promises her safety if she stays hidden from the thieves once they regroup, but the young lady, JoJo (Wu Chien-Lien), is discovered and her immediate elimination is ordered. In defying this directive, Wah Dee starts down a path that pits himself against both the police and his gang; however, in their meeting, Wah Dee and JoJo discover an unexpected connection that neither can deny.
A Moment of Romance is not the kind of film that fits neatly into one genre, but instead fits into several in a way that’s some kind of miracle. It’s at once a crime film that features a heist, a car chase, internal turmoil for a gang, and copious amounts of bloodletting, while *also* a drama that features young love, uplifting humor, wholesome mentorship, and doomed romance, the script by James Yuen (Manhunt/The Warlords) transitioning from one aspect of each into another with such delicacy as to feel like a magic trick. The introduction is a man whom we later learn is Wah Dee racing his motorcycle down the road, who, upon seeing a manned speed trap, goes back to destroy the stationed speed tracking device before heading to the vehicle derby where his friends and contacts within his gang are. That first bit of violence against the officer’s speed tracking equipment shows us that Wah Dee isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty via this act of defiance against authority, which also concurrently acts as a means of protecting individuals who he doesn’t know, immediately demonstrating to us that the character has a good heart and moral compass while the place he’s headed to, a vehicle derby, is a den of iniquity with blood a regular part of what they do at the track. This tells us that his outward life is violent and requires a certain mettle to survive. That the initial conflict of the film involves him trying to protect JoJo from his fellow gang members simply because they noticed her (and she them, therefore being able to ID them to police) doesn’t come out of left field as we already know from action and location that Wah Dee isn’t truly a bad person. That JoJo ultimately tries to protect Wah Dee from the cops and, later, finds herself drawn to him can be attributed, somewhat, to the fact that she’s 16 when she meets Wah Dee (older man, exciting, dangerous, caring) and she’s mostly on her own while her parents are in Canada setting up her father’s new business. But the reason she stays with Wah Dee (even when her parents return) and that the two can’t seem to shake each other, though mostly due to JoJo’s tenacity, is that Wah Dee is only in the gang and unable to leave due to the same moral compass that protected her. Especially as performed by Lau (Internal Affairs) and Wu (Eat Drink Man Woman), one comes to believe that their romance can save him and send them off on an incredible adventure. Though it doesn’t, there’s not a moment in the film which feels overly dramatic for the sake of theater, overly violent for the sake of blood, and overblown for the sake of tragedy. Their performances keep the film grounded and make the joys and sorrows exponentially more powerful, our longing for them to stay within their moment of romance and outside the consequences of existing in the world growing with each new scene. There’s heartbreak at the end of the story and it hurts, but there’s a sweet resonance that makes one feel, separated as we are from the events, grateful to have experienced it.
For those more interested in the home release itself, let’s turn to Radiance Films’s latest release.
Because MVD Entertainment Group provided a retail copy of Romance for home review, I can confirm that the included booklet describes the restoration process. It states that L’Immagine Ritrovata Asia used an original camera negative of the film to scan and restore into 4K. It also states that additional color correction and audio restoration was completed by Radiance Films this year. There’s nothing included to explain how the audio was restored or how/why color correction was performed, but be advised that this means that the look of the film will be different from prior available home releases. There’s no mention as to whether the color correction was approved by any living members of the production crew, either. That said, having not seen the film before, the cinematography by Joe Chan (Crime Story/Full Contact), Horace Wong (Hard Boiled/The Killer), and Patrick Jim (Fatal Termination/Love to Kill) is lovely. There’s a gritty realism to the derby racing sequences, an ethereal sense in the nighttime sequences with Wah Dee and JoJo, and a naturalistic sense to the rest of the film. One might not expect such different approaches to coalesce into a balanced and engaging cinematic experience, however, just like Yuen’s script balances the various motifs and themes, so do the combined skills of the cinematographers come together into a visually compelling experience. That said, the video does possess some artifacting and heavy visible grain (though mostly apparent in early scenes, specifically the meet-up between Wah Dee and the rest of the thieves). As mentioned, the audio is a restored version of the original monoaural track, meaning that it won’t make full use of a 5.1 system, yet this doesn’t prevent any kind of immersion due to clean dialogue and ambient sounds. There is occasionally clipping with the score, which may have more to do with the source materials and the monoaural track, rather than a fault of the restoration itself. It’s not disturbing enough to take one fully out of the film, but it’s enough to notice it when it happens.
As for the packaging, Radiance Films continues its defining visual styling by offering a reversible liner with new art on the outside (this time from artist Time Tomorrow) and a recreation of the original theatrical art on the inside. Both designs have their appeal, but, personally, the work by Time Tomorrow is a bit more evocative, utilizing the purple neon that floods into Wah Dee’s apartment as the color that swirls around a collage of both Wah Dee and JoJo from different moments in the film, creating a sense of the emotional whirlwind within the picture that doesn’t immediately convey romance (there is a still from the hostage situation) but of intriguing complication. The case is the usual clear plastic with a single disc and booklet, allowing owners to remove both elements to see the inside art in full. Also per usual, the disc itself is minimalist in design: white disc, title of the film, and Radiance stamp.
The limited-edition booklet includes the usual accompaniments (cast, crew, restoration info, etc.), as well as a new essay from Sean Gilman and Tony Williams. The first, “Beyond Romance: Andy Lau and Jacklyn Wu in the ‘90s,” provides additional context on the making of the film, the careers of the leads before and after, as well as the influences the film shares with other releases and their cast/filmmakers. This is a solid companion for the brand-new visual essay from David Desser, “In Love and Danger: HK Cinema Through A Moment of Romance,” which does the same from a different angle at the start before zeroing in on the film itself. Essays like these help audiences to understand the lack of vacuum that all films are conceived and created in. For instance, Desser makes a point in addressing the growing anxieties within Hong Kong with the looming transfer of power from the United Kingdom back to China in 1997 and how this appears in films like Romance and other releases of that period. Building off of this, in a way, the essay from Williams, “The Missing Auteur in A Moment of Romance,” approaches the film through the viewpoint that, while Chan is credited as the solo director, it was producer/filmmaker Johnnie To (Running Out of Time) who may have completed a significant portion of the film. While such a thing would create controversy in the U.S. regarding ownership of a film, etc., Williams explains how the studio system in Hong Kong operates, as well as the relationship between the two directors, to set about clarifying why this is far more common there and why it shouldn’t reduce Chan as director of Romance. If, however, the written essays by Gilman and Williams or the visual essay from Desser aren’t your preference, Radiance also includes a 21-minute archived interview from 2016 with Chan himself in which viewers can learn about the film from the auteur himself.
In 1993 and 1996, audiences were given sequels to Romance, the initial follow-up (II) directed by Benny Chan and starring Wu without Lau and the second (III) directed by Johnnie To with both lead actors returning. I mention this only to be able to tell you that Romance is a contained story that the subsequent films in the series are not connected to literally, but thematically.
Now, ultimately, a restoration review comes down to one thing: is the juice worth the squeeze? For Hong Kong cinema enthusiasts? Absolutely. The restoration is for the most part lovely, the sound quality is solid, and the bonus materials + packaging make one feel as though they own something worth cherishing. If your only other Benny Chan film is his final film Raging Fire (as it is with this critic), being able to watch Romance will feel a little full circle. You can see the flair for action, the smart execution of characterization, and the ease in blending genres so close to the start that becomes a signature at the end. Yes, the To influence is present, but you can see where Chan’s own perspective is at work. This restoration may not have broad appeal for general cinema fans, but that doesn’t seem to be Radiance’s audience anyway. So if you’ve been on the fence, I feel confident recommending this one.
A Moment of Romance Special Features:
- 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
Available on Blu-ray from Radiance Films August 22nd, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Radiance Films A Moment of Romance webpage.
To purchase, head to the official MVD Entertainment Group A Moment of Romance webpage.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.