A flawed but entertaining film about a Chinese love triangle interrupted by the Japanese invasion. Lead actor Chow Yun-Fat won his first major international recognition when he was voted best actor at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards and the Asia Pacific Film Festival. This well-regarded
1984 production was officially released in the US on home video in 1998.
Young vagabond Yip Kim Fay (Chow Yun-Fat), ever anxious to leave Hong Kong, befriends laborer Wong Hak Keung (Alex Man). After trouble breaks out at their workplace, they plan to skip town with Keung's girlfriend, Nam (Cecilia Yip). But the war changes everything, and only Fay makes the boat;
seeing his friends still on the dock, he jumps off and joins them.
The invasion leads to chaos, with Nam raped by Police Sergeant Wing (Paul Chun), who is subsequently killed by Keung. While Fay courts the Japanese, Keung heads into the country to make some black market cash, getting captured by local mercenary Chairman Liu Yan-Mau (Wu Ma). Fay shows up and maims
Keung to gain Liu's confidence, then kills Liu and the pair escape. While Keung recovers, Fay and Nam share a brief embrace, after which Fay resolves to join the resistance. But a Japanese officer arrives to make Nam his own; a fight ensues, with Nam killing the officer. The three then flee on a
junk that is intercepted by the Japanese, and Fay sacrifices himself to blow up the enemy boat.
HONG KONG 1941 is packed with period detail, lending a palpable feeling of desperation: A man tries to sell his granddaughter for potatoes; parents cut their daughter's hair and make her unattractive to save her from Japanese attention; children collect horse dung to pick undigested rice kernels
from it; and Nam finds a photo of Japanese bayoneting a baby--an image that later motivates her to kill the Japanese officer.
The character of Nam is perhaps the film's biggest flaw. Childish and impetuous and prone to sudden crippling headaches, she doesn't seem to justify the attention given to her by the male leads. Fay, on the other hand, is so nobly self-sacrificing and desperate for friendship that he seems to be
an inveterate masochist. When assisting the Japanese, he reveals himself as a double agent to a fleeing resistor, handing over his gun and asking to be hit. The next shot, of Fay removing a white bandage with a red bloodstain from his head (resembling a Japanese kamikaze bandana), is indicative of
the film's ironic symbolism. In a similar vein, another sequence has a Japanese officer singing "London Bridge is Falling Down" while playing with local children for a staged documentary.
The film was released in Hong Kong in 1984, the year the Joint Declaration was signed, setting 1997 as the date for Hong Kong's return to China. Unsurprisingly, there is a decided air of allegory about the proceedings, of anxiety regarding the handing over from British rule to another mistress.
Wounded British soldiers are seen stumbling toward Stanley Prison, street signs being changed from English names to Japanese. Director Leong Po-Chih, born and schooled in London, worked for the BBC and then HK television before embarking on a film career exhibiting a fascination for the bicultural
identity of Hong Kong. Referring to himself as a "banana" Chinese (yellow on the outside, white on the inside), he co-directed a 1997 HK/UK television documentary on the handover to China. (Graphic violence, sexual situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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- Released: 1984
- Rating: NR
- Review: A flawed but entertaining film about a Chinese love triangle interrupted by the Japanese invasion. Lead actor Chow Yun-Fat won his first major international recognition when he was voted best actor at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards and the Asia Pacific Film… (more)