True Colours (1986)

Directed by: Kirk Wong
Produced & written by: Raymond Wong
Starring: Ti Lung, Raymond Wong, Brigitte Lin, Wong Hap, Lam Chung & Gary Lam

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After a bloody triad brawl, Lung (Ti Lung) accidentally assaults a police and is helped by best friend Robert (Raymond Wong) to escape by boat from Hong Kong. Leaving his girlfriend May (Brigitte Lin) behind with Robert, Lung turns up 5 years later again to find Robert has converted to Christianity and is running a school for youth criminals. Lung also locates May, now married to wealthy businessman Mr. Kuk (Wong Hap). Robert's claims that she's living happily is entirely misleading though as it's a marriage of abuse and Lung sets out to forgive himself in May's eyes for not keeping contact by taking her away. Easier said than done and blood is soon spilt...

With a slight versatility already established through Kirk Wong's work (Health Warning being the prime example), True Colours more or less is on paper genre fodder and while problematic in some regards, it's now almost 20 years later in this reviewers eyes a little underrated action-drama. It's easy early on to establish what the problems are and they're certainly not something Kirk Wong is responsible for. No, writer/producer/co-star Raymond Wong hasn't exactly created an unexpected story in any way and as soon as developments start, most viewers will be able to spot the next piece of the puzzle. One being that a story like this can't end happily.

Having said that, Raymond actually does one thing right, and that is to hand over storytelling duties to Kirk in order for the emotional core of the film embodied by Ti Lung and Brigitte Lin to become something akin to affecting. Leading to a well-established and actually well-performed thematic journey, key word within it being redemption. Even more specifically, two sides of it. After having to suspend our disbeliefs quite a bit as we see Raymond's character as a tough triad in the flashback to 1955, the 1960s story of friendship, love and heroism begins gaining momentum very much thanks to Kirk Wong's eye for the cinematic. Cinematographer Joe Chan makes the film very elegant and it's a building brick for the messages of the film to continue also, without overdoing the period details. Raymond and Kirk pack in quite many aspects surrounding Lung's redemption that has nothing to do with going straight but to make up for lost love, the youngsters who follow in his footsteps and in the middle, the priest who's torn between transforming the youths under his belt into good kids and his deep brotherly bond with Lung.

These being familiar themes from the 80s, especially so since the release year of True Colours was the same as the seminal A Better Tomorrow. However director Wong's action-drama contribution feels more rightly subdued in terms of melodrama, even though characters usually spell out every meaning of the film and the current/next step of the journey they're currently now on. The latter dangerously close to being sinking this ship if it hadn't been for quite solid casting.

Anchoring the film is Ti Lung and Brigitte Lin and the former shows that rejuvenated sense of screen presence that happened the same year under John Woo's direction in A Better Tomorrow. I t's a fairly layered performance in True Colours that contains the written thematic by Wong to a T, but embodied in a way that it becomes a little bit emotional at times even, even though Lung is leaning towards being an anti-hero. Lin in reality doesn't have much to work with but it's another truth that anything she touched at the time turned into gold. Her chemistry with Ti Lung and ageless beauty (that description for Lin will never get old) materializes into some of the most memorable images of the film. Raymond Wong isn't particularly believable as an action hero (the relatively few times he ventures into those territories in the film that is) but brings surprising acting chops when the movie shows him as a new man, having to deal with loyalties on both the straight and illegal side of life. Again, since Kirk Wong keeps the melodrama surprisingly low key, Raymond's performance does gel well with the film. The crucial character of James however is not particularly well handled by Gary Lam, apparently only able to overact with a vengeance.

A mention must go to the action directing by Kirk Wong himself and Joe Chu, taking a less polished Ringo Lam route by concentrating on gritty brawls and quite heavy bloodshed. In actuality, Lam's style wouldn't crop up in full bloom until a year later in City On Fire but it's still evident that he refined a grittiness that in the case of True Colours only comes to life when the stakes are higher for the characters. But it's welcome to see a different side to action and gunplay during the year when John Woo established what would be xeroxed for years.

True Colours should've had a slightly longer English title such as True Colours Of A Hero as it more accurately and even in a thoughtful way describes the contents of Kirk Wong's action-drama. I would rather point you towards Wong directed efforts such as Gunmen, Organized Crime & Triad Bureau and even Health Warning first but True Colours is a little unappreciated movie with a thematic taken to stronger places thanks to acting. Raymond Wong is the reason the movie really isn't that surprising but Kirk is the reason why the movie never gets boring.

The DVD:

Deltamac presents the film in a 1.70:1 aspect ratio approximately. Beginning flashback scenes are shot in incredibly soft light and focus, something the transfer doesn't handle well as artifacts are visible. It all clears up and the 60s segments are colourful, fairly sharp and the print only has minor damage.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track has one instance of muffled dialogue but sounds clear otherwise. A Mandarin 2.0 track is also included.

The English subtitles come with a fair amount of spelling and grammar errors but nothing that will puzzle any viewer. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Only extra is the trailer.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson