All About Ah Long (1989)

Directed by: Johnnie To
Written by: Ng Man Fai & Philip Cheng
Producer: Taap Ga Jan
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Sylvia Chang, Wong Kwan Yuen & Ng Man Tat

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Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1990:
Best Actor (Chow Yun-Fat)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1990:
Best Picture
Best Screenplay (Ng Man Fai & Philip Cheng)
Best Actress (Sylvia Chang)
Best Supporting Actor (Wong Kwan Yuen)
Best Newcomer (Wong Kwan Yuen)
Best Song: A long luen kuk (A Long Love Song)
Music: Law Tai Yau
Lyrics & performed by: Sam Hui

Johnnie To today is primarily known for his crime-thrillers, quirky or not, at Milkyway but the To pre-Milkyway enjoyed success with action and comedy. Films like The Heroic Trio and the martial arts action movie The Barefoot Kid are among fan favourites but he has also directed award winning drama such as this 1989 effort All About Ah Long.

Ah Long (Chow Yun-Fat) works as a truckdriver at a construction site and is a single father of 10 year old Porky (Wong Kwan Yuen). He barely makes enough to support his son but the love for him allows him able to handle any backlash that might come his way. One day Porky gets an offer to appear in an television ad and the director of it turns out to be Por Por, (Sylvia Chang from Forever and Ever) Porky's real mother.

Through flashbacks we learn that Ah Long and Por Por had a relationship 10 years earlier that didn't end well. She left him and emigrated to America after catching him with another woman. Through the reunion Ah Long sees his chance to form a family now that Porky's mother is back but under the surface there are still wounds not yet healed and Ah Long now has to make a difficult decision regarding his sons future...

Johnnie To directed All About Ah Long during a time where he had enjoyed commercial success (the Lunar New Year comedy Eighth Happiness was a huge hit) and even though comedy was the recipe for that, he turns his attention to character drama here. To has an disadvantage as a director in the way he overdoes melodrama in various movies of his but I've always felt All About Ah Long, despite the hysteric emotions on display.

It doesn't hurt that he has a first rate trio of actors in front of the camera. Kudos goes out to little Wong Kwan Yuen especially. The role he plays demands that he displays a smartness about life but first and foremost it's a very physical and emotional part. He pulls off all these aspects with such great ability that I think it's sad that he didn't walk home with a Hong Kong Film Award that year.

Someone who did get a HKFA, for the third time (A Better Tomorrow & City On Fire were the other two), was Chow Yun-Fat. I really like that he initially plays a pretty loudmouthed and somewhat unsympathetic character. It's the love for Porky that drives Ah Long to better his status in life though. If he himself can't succeed then he will do anything not to let Porky walk down the same path. Chow Yun-Fat amazing acting really shows that he IS the character, not the actor playing him.

Sylvia Chang also plays a character that is far from perfect. When she and Ah Long breaks up, she flees away from her motherly responsibilities. Outside, she has turned cold over the years but inside there is a motherly warmth that comes out when she does see her son for the first time all grown up. Sylvia doesn't miss a beat in the portrayal of this character. Ng Man Tat provides support of the dramatic kind, for once. He would go to on to win a Hong Kong Film Award for this work on Benny Chan's classic A Moment Of Romance.

Chow Yun-Fat is always excellent as an action hero in films like The Killer but he has on several occasions shown that he feels more comfortable acting in either dramatic or comedic roles. Today he is still mostly known for his work with John Woo but if he gets more chances at drama in Hollywood, I think that All About Ah Long subsequently will find an even bigger audience. Johnnie To's work here is not subtle but it's felt.

The DVD:

The Universe dvd presents the movie in an aspect ratio of 1.80:1 approximately . Overall the print used is very watchable but suffers from several detractions. Print defects are present in the form of specks and lines for a number of scenes and there's also a softness over the print.

The sound comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both Cantonese and Mandarin. The remix doesn't add too much distractions in the form of added foley and sounds generally clear.

The English subtitles are optional but that is basically where the good things end. Several grammar and spelling errors all throughout the movie but the film eventually survives its poor translation. Japanese, Bahasa Indonesian, Bahasa Malaysian, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

The supplements consists of bios (in Chinese and English) for Chow Yun-Fat, Sylvia Chang and director Johnnie To. These are fairly lightweight but still has some good basic info. Finally the theatrical trailer is included which actually contains a few behind the scenes shots and most importantly Chow Yun-Fat on set talking to the camera about the movie. This is not a spoilerfree trailer though, so don't watch it before the movie.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson