The Hong Kong media has proven to be a quite a popular subject for films recently, most notably evident in Johnnie To’s slick thriller Breaking News, but also to a lesser extent in many others. Here, produced by popular indie filmmaker Fruit Chan, and co-directed by Gordan Chan, who was responsible for several of Stephen Chow’s comedies as well as the award-winning Beast Cops, A-1 again tackles this increasingly-relevant theme.
Canto-pop star Angelica Lee heads up the all-star cast as Ling, a fashion columnist for one of Hong Kong’s major newspapers. After finding out that her ex-boyfriend, also a writer for the paper, has died in a car accident in suspicious circumstances, she begins to wonder if there was something more to it. The two witnesses at the scene, debt-collector Fei, (Anthony Wong) and Ma (Eric Kot), certainly believe that foul play was involved and offer their assistance if she wishes to investigate it further herself.
Another Canto-pop idol rounds off the main cast as Edison Chen, playing newspaper photographer Kei, joins the trio as they attempt to discover the truth. However, doing so they encounter numerous obstacles, and end up competing with both the police and even the newspaper corporation they work for. The two debt collectors must also pay back their own debts, whilst Fei, himself an ex-cop, faces severe hostility from the police force.
It all sounds fairly run-of-the-mill, but the film manages to move along quite nicely for the majority. Conspiracy elements are played up well, not least when the newspaper corporation is acquired by a tycoon whom the quartet have recently come across in their investigations. There are also nice touches such as the slight sense of competition between the senior and junior members of the group, Fei and Kei, and also the way that the debt collectors are in turn trying to avoid other debt collectors. There’s even an extended cameo by one of the more underrated actors in the industry, Tony Leung Kar Fai, as Fei’s debt-collecting-partner, but despite his enjoyable performance, his character is purely disposable, spending the majority of the time off-screen until it is time for him to provide means of advancing the plot forwards. It may not be as fun as his recent role in Men Suddenly In Black, but his presence and comic relief are still welcome.
However, what really lets the film down is its ending, as with uninspiring cinematography, a bland score, and familiar characters, only its plot had the potential of setting A-1 apart from the competition. Not only is the ending entirely dull, it also negates all of the suspense, paranoia, and conspiracy theories that the rest of the plot had done a good job setting up. And so as it has you guessing right up until the finale, the actual ending is entirely disappointing and renders all the issues the film had raised worthless.
Thankfully, as the film is enjoyable up to that point, it’s still possible to recommend it. The cast is also above par, with Anthony Wong adding to his eclectic mix of roles with a great performance here. The two singers are also surprisingly convincing in their respective positions, and Leung’s aforementioned extended cameo is as entertaining as it is short-lived.
Apart from some brief instances of minor print damage, the anamorphic transfer is excellent. It’s sharp, colour tones are natural, and detail levels are consistently high. The film isn’t particularly demanding, but the transfer handles dark scenes well, with strong blacks and very little noise, and when there are particularly strong colours, they are presented well.
The sound is also first-rate, particularly the DTS track which has exceptional clarity, and utilises all speakers effectively. The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, available in Cantonese or Mandarin are also pleasing, and provide a perfectly suitable alternative for those who can’t play DTS.
The subtitles are also top-notch, clearly visible at all times and providing an English translation that sounds entirely natural, complete with relevant slang and idioms.
Some of the special features are subtitled, which is always a nice touch, but unfortunately many are left without translations. The first, an Exclusive Directors’ Interview (10’37”) asks the two directors such critical questions as “Why did you choose to make a film on such a difficult subject?” and “Are you disappointed with the box-office results?”. Whilst some of the answers come off as more than a little self-righteous – one of the directors suggests that the reason the film performed badly at the box-office was because “They (the HK film-goers) don’t want to tackle a film that demands patience and intelligence” – the interview still provides an interesting insight into the HK film industry, and their stance on the media.
Next up is the Anthony Wong Exclusive Interview (5’54”), which has the actor giving his take on the film and the character – how he approached the role, what were his co-stars like, and so on. Interestingly, he too seems a little bemused by the ending, suggesting that the anti-climax was because the film is predominately a love story. Overall, an interesting interview with one of Hong Kong’s more enigmatic and interesting actors, but far too short for him to go into any real depth.
There are also six un-subtitled Deleted Scenes, complete with optional un-subtitled directors’ commentary (…), an un-subtitled feature called the CIA Film Forum (12’30”), Gala Premiere Footage (0’39”), a Photo Gallery, two Trailers, and the Directors’ Biographies and Filmographies.
A-1 is a solid if unspectacular film, with great performances all round, but is let down by its thoroughly anti-climactic ending. However, it’s been given an excellent presentation on DVD, and is undoubtedly still worth a look.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:30:57