All About Ah Long (1989)
by: Johnnie To
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1990:
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.
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.