Kidnap (1974)

Written & directed by: Ching Gong
Producer: Runme Shaw
Starring: Lo Lieh, Fan Mei Sheng, Hu Chin, Tung Lam, Lau Ng Kei, Cheng Miu, Ha Ping & Lam Wai Tiu

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I'll be discussing aspects of this movie that some readers may perceive as spoilers so if you want as little knowledge as possible beforehand, skip reading this review.

Tired of being pushed over, friends Lung Wei (Lo Lieh), Chao Hai Chuan (Fen Mei Sheng - The Magnificent Butcher), Niu Ta Kang (Tung Lam - King Boxer) and Ting Hsiao Chiang (Lam Wai Tiu - Black Magic) hatch a kidnapping plan that will, if all goes right, bring them all wealth. It soon turns to murder and The Wolves, as the gang call themselves, become wanted criminals...

Written and directed by Ching Gong (The Twelve Gold Medallions and the father of action director for this and countless other films including Hero, Ching Siu-Tung), Kidnap tells the true life crime story about the last people sentenced to hang in Hong Kong. A production courtesy of the resourceful Shaw Brother's studios and later remade in 1989 by Taylor Wong as Sentenced To Hang (the first Hong Kong movie to be given Category III rating). While the directors inject and remove a thing or two between each other's works (the use of wolf masks is something Wong is alone in), Kidnap and Sentenced To Hang are essentially the same films down to staging and dialogue but comparisons should still be made in my mind.

There are certain impressions Ching Gong leaves with viewers of Kidnap. Impressions ranging from overblown, in your face, distant and sloppy. Verdict on scenes throughout that doesn't equal a bad film but Kidnap is far from riveting. Though the filmmakers state that the characters are fictitious, the famous 60s kidnap and murder case is not. The happenings are not placed within horrific and shocking films but at the time, the crimes obviously did horrify. Much having to do with the fact that these men were by all accounts good citizens, had no criminal records but what the movies show is that good turns to bad easily. And it's nothing we're asked to feel for.

So rightly, Ching Gong brings us characters that are wrong morally in all their assessments, making sure that the film is not made for entertainment purposes, but to showcase a message (a rather simple one, made to look a little bit too overly important via the narrator that opens and closes the film). All well and good but Kidnap has problems. While the pace clips along fairly nicely, when you look at the way characters are setup and explored, a 2 hour running time simply doesn't feel valid. Oddly enough, Ching Gong is really intense pace-wise with his developments as the characters are shown as bullied and underdogs. Then BAM!...all of a sudden the kidnapping scheme is already hatched. Ching mixes that intensity to both camera and editing, which is one of the flawed experiments of the film. Oh, the camera work and cinematography does have fine merits as Lin Kuo Hsiang & Wu Chu Hua provides a suitably polished look to a little, gritty Hong Kong world but the editing choices at times really is overdone to the point of distraction. Mainly quick cuts bother, something inherent in the choices made in 1974 and Celestial's habit of frame cutting during restoration. But the latter point can not be held fully responsible as there are a few instances of quite sloppy continuity in editing, something anyone should be able to pick up. It does hurt, even though Ching Kong's narrative skills does come off ok.

Mainly Lo Lieh's Lung Wei and Fan Mei Sheng's Chao Hai Chuan feel distinct but it's here Ching Gong still isn't very interested to be in your face anymore. It's again merely setups as bullies striving for wealth, respect, to overcome your opposing forces and being family men that runs through the various character arcs. While Fan Mei Sheng does get more opportunity to add onto his side story about life as a father, director Ching's developments halt and more pressure is put on actors to deliver presence. Something Lo Lieh easily handles as well as Fan Mei Sheng but traits as unsympathetic characters with a valid train of thought gone bad really is the sole depth. And it's not enough. Taylor Wong didn't necessarily explore deeper but he had an excellent performer like Kent Cheng at his disposal. In Sentenced To Hang there really was a hesitation in characters but Kidnap shows more of the morbid fascination that grows out of the men as they murder, conspire and psychologically torture their victims. So here one should give Ching Gong more of a thumbs up as it's a better portrayal of the sinister playful side of men that tends to come out.

Best work by both Ching Gong and Taylor Wong is saved for the finales that sees the execution being carried out. Seeing the breakdown in characters and the multi-faceted statements that either means remorse or further descent into darkness is one of the reasons Kidnap is more compelling at this point but Ching here wrongfully continues to be way too intense with editing while this section was made much more haunting and eerie when Taylor Wong was in charge (Herman Yau also did a splendid job shooting the 1989 film). Both doesn't know how to restrain themselves in melodrama but as Ching really doesn't hit many marks with character journey's and depth, it doesn't exactly register either way.

It could've been worse though and I'm sure Kidnap made an impact upon release in 1974, not many years after the real life crime dominated the headlines. Shaw Brother's opted to recap the crime, not exploit it as such but director Ching Gong makes the experience too pronounced via his directorial choices in the technical field. People may know the characters after the fairly extensive running time but one fault is that it's not much to know. Adequate for sure but if you as a filmmaker need 2 hours, viewers also expect more substance. Still, it's a fine looking production and the lead stars provide quality presence to overcome any signs of boredom. As this story surfaced was copied into the 1989 film, Taylor Wong may not have learnt much from Ching Kong's questionable decisions in Kidnap but Sentenced To Hang has the edge in raw power, if only slightly. Consider neither a classic though.

The DVD:

IVL presents the remastered print by Celestial in a 2.32:1 framed aspect ratio approximately. Minimal defects such as staining and print damage turn up in an otherwise immaculate presentation. Colours are rich, black levels very good, sharpness high and even though a handful of shots look worse, it's more likely due to errors made during filming.

Director Ching Gong was someone who pushed for Cantonese cinema prior to joining Shaw Brother's and while the dialect is referred to in the subtitles, it's in all likelihood a movie suited for Mandarin dialect. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix remain mostly true to the mono roots although the instances where cricket noises and bird chirping foley effects are added on becomes distracting. The Celestial sound people even has these elements mixed in at high volume during one scene indoors! A Cantonese 5.1 option is also available.

The English subtitles are mostly error free (bitch becomes ditch at one point) but at times repeats themselves and contains signs that clearly shouldn't be there. Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia are traditional Chinese are the other subtitle selections.

Thankfully the original trailer have been included along with newly created, subtitled trailers for Kidnap, Hong Kong Playboy, Till The End Of Time, The Bride Napping and The Anonymous Heroes. 7 stills from the movie, image of the original poster, the usual plot synopsis disguising itself as production notes (claiming the film is a hybrid between kung-fu and drama) and short biographies/filmographies for director Ching Gong, actors Lo Lieh and Hu Chin are the remainder of the extras.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson