A Moment of Romance Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: August 22, 2023
Audio: Cantonese LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 92:17
Director: Benny Chan
Small-time hood Wah Dee (Andy Lau) is enlisted by Triad boss Trumpet (Tommy Wong) as a getaway driver for a daring heist that goes wrong. Thinking fast, Dee takes Jo Jo (Jacklyn Chien-Lien Wu) hostage to save his skin, but the bosses order her to be killed. They escape and begin a forbidden relationship while being chased by both sides of the law. (From Radiance Film’s official synopsis)
In 1990, Johnnie To was on the fast track to become one of the biggest director/writer/producers in Hong Kong history after directing 1988’s biggest box office hit, The Eighth Happiness, and 1989’s All About Ah-Long, which won Chow Yun-fat Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Andy Lau was already a star, but approaching superstardom thanks to his second Best Actor nomination for Wong Kar-wai’s As Tears Go By (1989). Ringo Lam had hit big paydirt directing City on Fire (1987), Prison on Fire (1987), and, of course, School on Fire (1988). Writer/director/producer Benny Chan, on the other hand, had only directed one film, Let's Rage the Gangland (1988), and was still eight years away from his first collaboration with Jackie Chan, 1998’s Who Am I?. Also in 1990, all four of these men collaborated on a movie called A Moment of Romance. A Moment of Romance was made by four of the biggest names in Hong Kong cinema and popular enough to spawn two sequels, yet, somehow, it was barely seen outside of Asia and barely touched upon during critical appraisals.
Chan was director on the project, but A Moment of Romance really does feel like a combination of his, Lam, and To’s sensibilities, as well as a pretty blatant star vehicle for Lau. As such, it’s a stunning mash-up of stylized action, hard-nosed violence, opulent neo-noir lighting schemes, and heartfelt, melodramatic romance. It’s so relentless that it can be difficult to parse. One perfect indicator of its overstuffed nature is the way absolutely insane stunt antics are constantly tossed aside as brief little textural beats in greater action montages (the collateral damage during the lorry truck derby being a good example). This is what I’d argue keeps A Moment of Romance from true greatness (and possibly led producers to opt not to release it in Europe and North America) – there are too many perfectly executed sequences that we don’t really have a chance to absorb and appreciate. Still, it would be nice if more movies had this problem.
In the end, despite A Moment of Romance’s excesses constantly threatening to swamp the audience’s brains and deep-fry their attention spans, Chan tends to just barely thread the needle by counterbalancing the disorienting action with slow-motion dramatics (often literal slow-motion). All the while, James Yuen’s screenplay is anchored on familiar tropes. The story itself isn’t overly simplified – there’s still plenty of plot and character development – but its contexts are defined by crime thriller and forbidden romance clichés, giving us a better chance to take certain things for granted as the narrative barrels ahead into its next montage sequence. What really holds it all together, though, even as the edges are frayed and seams buckle, is the consistent sense of sincerity, though a specific viewer’s tolerance of said sincerity will certainly be tested by cutesy dating montages, sad musical interludes, and a thoroughly chaste central romance.
I don’t think A Moment of Romance ever had a North American theatrical release, aside from maybe a festival and there wasn’t an official home video release for the entire ‘90s. As is often the case, there was a non-anamorphic American DVD from Tai Seng in 2000, along with a matching VHS tape. Surprisingly, there was never an anamorphically-enhanced digital edition released, instead, we skipped directly to HD with this Blu-ray from Radiance Films (though there was a 2017 limited edition BD from South Korean studio King Media). The transfer was restored in 4K from the original camera negative and is presented in 1080p, 1.85:1. Dual cinematographers Joe Chan Kwong-Hung and Wong Wing-Hang mash-up a whole bunch of visual styles over the course of the movie, blending gritty action, diffused romantic lighting, and neon gels into what really should be an unruly mixed media soup, but the transfer is surprisingly clean. Soft, sure, but clean, even during the grainiest nighttime or magic hour sequence, the granules themselves are consistent and don’t overwhelm important details. The delicate colors are the most impressive element, appearing vivid, plush, or naturalistic whenever necessary.
A Moment of Romance includes only its original Cantonese dub, seemingly having never been dubbed into English or Mandarin. The sole track is presented in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono. Volume levels are a bit low, but I think this is mostly the result of a somewhat substandard dubbing and mixing process. I believe most of the lead actors are dubbing themselves, which is great for tone and performance, and they appear to be speaking Cantonese on set, but there’s also some rough lip sync throughout. The larger issue is the lack of incidental effects and ambience. It’s not super unusual for Hong Kong movies from this era to have thin sound design, but, given the scope and quality of the film, it’s still a little strange to have literally no sound outside of dialogue and music for long swaths of runtime. Again, this isn’t Radiance’s fault, they’ve done their job in preserving the original tracks and presenting them as cleanly as possible. The music, aside from the pop-rock ballad interludes, is credited to Lo Tayu and Fabio Carli, and has an effective lo-fi charm that is endemic to HK productions of the era, some sort of like an upgraded 16-bit video game soundtrack. It’s also stylistically eclectic, in keeping with the film’s mash-up qualities.
Commentary with Frank Djeng – Everyone’s favorite Hong Kong cinema expert takes a break from Arrow and 88 Films releases to talk about a Radiance release. This is everything you’d expect from a solo Djeng track, including information about the film’s origins and themes, its production, release, and legacy, the careers of the cast & crew, the Cantonese wordplay and other cultural references, and references to other Hong Kong films.
Audio interview with Benny Chan (21:21, HD) – In this 2016 interview with Arnaud Ianuque, Chan discusses his training, early career, collaborations, the making of A Moment of Romance (it was here that I learned there was no finished script, which makes so much sense), and the films that inspired it.
In Love and Danger: HK Cinema Through A Moment of Romance (25:59, HD) – In this new visual essay, critic and Asian cinema expert David Desser explores A Moment of Romance’s precursors, influences, uniquely Hong Kong-esque genre mash-up qualities, and the ways its themes reflect the country’s socio-political anxieties in the early ‘90s.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.