From The Queen To The Chief Executive (2001)
by: Herman Yau
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2002:
There are a lot of things wrong with this world, too many for one to care about every thing. What Herman Yau's From The Queen To The Chief Executive does is enlighten us on on of those many injustices in our world and knowing about is still very important.
In 1985 Cheung Yau Ming (David Lee) was involved in a brutal rape/murder of two British youths. Because of his young age he was sentenced to 'Detention under Her Majesty's Pleasure' while waiting for a definite judgment. Cut to 1997, 6 months before Great Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China, and Ming is still under the same detention, together with 22 other prisoners, waiting for his sentence. The fear of what's going to happen to them after the handover grows and they desperately write letters to people who may help them but no one bothers. That is until Cheung Yue Ling (Ai Jing) visits Ming in the prison after mail corresponding with him. She wants to help him and she enlist human rights activist Leung Cheung Kan (Stephen Tang) to organize it all. Together with the prisoners families the struggle begins to get the definite sentences carried out...
Director Herman Yau's behind some of the more talked about Category III movies out of Hong Kong (The Untold Story for example) and after seeing those, who would've thought he was capable of bringing to the screen, a poignant drama like this. It shines through in the direction that he himself was very interested in the topic and that he really put his heart and soul into this film. He also acts as cinematographer on films but that trait rarely carries over to his directed movies. What I mean by that is that he rightly seems focused on story when directing and the look of a film when shooting one. This story is told very straightforward and Herman really makes sure that the plot is completely understandable for the audience. Almost every scene is infused with a great attention to detail from everything in the surroundings to the dialogue and acting. Nothing is hard to follow despite the, at times, political dialogue and that's so important to achieve. If you want the audience to pay attention and feel this kind of story in their hearts, you can't rush things. That doesn't mean the movie is boring though. It's paced just right and we've understood all plus created an opinion on the subject after the movie is over.
There's only small glimpses of a very stylized camera language but it's well applied in moments like the highly disturbing rape/murder scene that's seen in flashback from time to time. Here Herman combines frenetic camera work with hard hitting sounds that just creates the mood of disgust at the meaningless act committed. Also scattered throughout is a few character moments where Herman pushes in the camera really close and it's something that, remarkably enough, doesn't take you out of the movie. That's signs of a competent director that's also blessed with a well defined Elsa Chan script. The three main characters all have their similarities in some ways and they all get their moments outside of the struggle, which just makes them alive and much more human. This is hardly a Hong Kong film were everything was made up as the shooting progressed.
Activist Leung Cheung Kan is so dedicated to whatever cause he fights that his relationship with his wife and son are falling apart. Cheung Yue Ling left her mother as a teenager (after an act which I will not disclose here) and prisoner Ming is an orphan. So they all share problems in their family situations in a way. That may, here in writing, sound cliché but it comes full circle in the hands of these actors. Much of that has to do with the fact that they're all newcomers to films (David Lee have appeared in smaller parts in such films as Bullets Over Summer). Not having the familiarity factor there makes this true story as real as you can get on film. They're all in tune with their character and aside from some slight overacting in sentimental scenes, they're all memorable in their roles.
As mentioned, From The Queen To The Chief Executive is based on a true story and it's themes must be conveyed without having to speak to the audience all the time. Herman knows this and gets us interested right from the start. The movies does take side but not against the British rule who initiated the use of the 'Detention under Her Majesty's Pleasure'. It's against the violation of human rights and it's the meaning of the law that the movie criticizes. At the same time, there lies an aura of opposition against the activists from the people in Hong Kong. The movie shows that and the audience may also disagree without the film being ruined. After all, it's youths who have committed serious crimes and they should be punished. They should not be kept waiting for that though. If they know what they were facing they could either better their lives inside for the preparation when they go outside again. To sit and wait without knowing like that must be torture and one prisoner even says he would prefer to be shot by a Chinese execution squad than endure any more of what he's in. Herman does this way create sympathy in the prisoners but importantly not in the crimes they committed.
From The Queen To The Chief Executive is a real eye opener of a grave injustice. Even if you feel like you can't do anything about it, do yourself a favour and learn of it. For Hong Kong movie fans this is a real powerful movie that needs to be watched, just to see if it's really true that Herman Yau is capable of this. It's definitely one of stronger movies of 2001.
To the best of my knowledge, Chinastar has pulled out of the dvd market at the time of writing. That's such a shame since they've produced some truly great discs compared to the junk Mei Ah and Widesight puts out for example . The box doesn't mention it but this is a 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer. It's very clean but sharpness could've been better. A slight darkness lies over the transfer that is still very much watchable. Always a treat to see Hong Kong movies in 16:9.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is held back most of the time since it's a dialogue driven movie. When music and effects kick in, it envelops you really nicely. A well produced and mixed soundtrack. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.
The English subtitles are excellent and does a very good job describing all the events. Chinastar have excelled in this area before and doesn't disappoint this time either. One set of Chinese subtitles are also selectable. A short making of (3 minutes and 17 seconds) appear as well as the trailer for the movie.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson