Eight Taels Of Gold (1989)
Directed by: Mabel Cheung
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Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1990:
An infrequent but truly a team as life partners and creators of cinema, Mabel Cheung and Alex Law switched places again after the latter managed to earn his directorial debut a Best Actor statuette at the Hong Kong Film Awards. The film was Painted Faces, the story of the dying art of Peking Opera and the actor on the recipient end of accolades was none other than Sammo Hung. Now the year after, Eight Taels Of Gold demonstrates what perfect home otherwise action god Hung found with the team and that the team attempted their most difficult work so far. Oh, Eight Taels Of Gold gets a pay off but isn't representing thoroughly the rather straightforward, basic but subtle nature of said past works. It's more Chinese but a huge chunk of that Chinese translates.
With little narrative in the traditional sense, Mabel Cheung and Alex Law return to the immigration/emigration theme of their past work (An Autumn's Tale, The Illegal Immigrant) but got enough new ways to speak of it. We're happy to be part of some repetition as Sammo Hung's Slim packs up big stuff from America as he plans his return to the motherland of China. Not that Slim made much of a name for himself over there. As a matter of fact, he's a cab driver but the return to the village must be a triumphant, big one in his mind. Originally fleeing without a proper goodbye, 16 years down the line means all this preparation is rooted in fear of being rejected...
There's quite a hefty psychology to Hung's Slim that gradually gets revealed in the film as we follow him on a deeper and deeper trip into the very roots of his being. Slim can spin stories about the great, big land he came from to hide the fact he didn't manage to learn much of its culture and via the injection of Sylvia Chang's Jenny (the cousin of Slim, nicknamed Odds-and-Ends), he may be answering her questions for her prep to go over there with her future husband but he's not in any way above her level. In fact, the two are the true beginners in this story. Characters that are suitably then in a very earthy and village bound setting for most of the film. Mabel Cheung doesn't ask us beforehand to be patient but we have to realize that the entire movie is a beautiful, meticulous, detailed village travelogue. We begin to truly feel as the image of Slim's old dog Spot becomes the symbolism of his lack of accomplishments but the danger, maybe plot-wise, is about the fact that Slim finds Jenny the perfect friend to discover the world with. A world that pre-plans things, including Jenny's future.
The film is more visual cinema than narrative (Bill Wong's cinematography is stunning however), which is fine once the dramatic effect sinks in but it's not the ideal start for anyone curious about Mabel Chung, Alex Law or indeed the dramatic acting from Sammo. The film can be hard to decipher and the various local superstition, rules and characters hard to interpret but when you realize the complexity is all about Cheung not spelling out matters in an overly apparent way, you begin to sit more comfortably. Especially so since the basics of the film, the growing affecting between Slim and Jenny, becomes VERY apparent and affecting eventually. Finally, Slim's exterior he deems a failure springs to true life as well as the warm performances by Sammo and Sylvia who are in full control of the subtleties of their non-actions. It's all in the looks, in the faces faces that speaks volumes of basically virgin-characters and while Eight Taels Of Gold isn't an ideal starting point if you want to follow the careers of the involved, you should and will end up at it.
Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. A sorely missed entry on home video, the print is clean and bright enough but comes with a smeary nature that doesn't bring out much desired detail. Thanks to the power of the film, you settle in quite nicely after a short while though.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds a little distorted at points but does the job otherwise. The Mandarin 2.0 track probably is a suitable viewing choice for the movie as well.
The English subtitles presents little problems in terms of coherency. The odd spelling error here and there doesn't detract either. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Extras are limited to the trailer and Mei Ah's Databank.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson