Nomad (1982)

Directed by: Patrick Tam
Written by: Patrick Tam, Yau Daai On-Ping, Joyce Chan, Eddie Fong, Gam Bing-Hing & John Chan
Producer: Jeff Lau & Dennis Yu
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Cecilia Yip, Pat Ha, Ken Tong & Stuart Ong


Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1983:
Best Picture
Best Director (Patrick Tam)
Best Screenplay (Patrick Tam, Yau Daai On-Ping, Joyce Chan, Eddie Fong, Gam Bing-Hing & John Chan)
Best Actor (Leslie Cheung)
Best New Performer (Cecilia Yip)
Best New Performer (Pat Ha)
Best Cinematography (Bill Wong, David Chung & Peter Ngor)
Best Art Direction (William Chang & Joe Hau)
Best Original Film Score (Violet Lam)

One of the most exciting aspects of the New Wave filmmaking of the early 80s in Hong Kong, that included tangents of the dark, political, exploitative and socially critical, is the plethora, and I mean PLETHORA of on- and off-screen talent at the start of their careers. Ranging from the writing, cinematography and assistant directing-department on Nomad, you'll find the likes of Stanley Kwan (director of Rouge), Eddie Fong (An Amorous Woman Of Tang Dynasty) and William Chang (much employed art director on Wong Kar-Wai's films). Of main focus is the team of Patrick Tam, Jeff Lau and Dennis Yu though. The latter two headed a short-lived production company that also gave us Yu's The Imp (1981) and this, Tam's third film. Having the classic swordplay movie The Sword and the little seen Love Massacre under his belt at this point, Tam co-wrote this puzzler of a drama. But as frustrating as the film is for probably 90% of its running time, there are rewards at the end of the tunnel if you've not given up pre that 90% point.

Very loosely plotted but basically about a group of young adults drifting, longing and adoring whatever Japan can throw at them, especially culturally. In this group we find fashion design student Louie (Leslie Cheung) who hooks up with Tomato (Cecilia Yip in her feature debut) who has been thrown out by her boyfriend Andy. Kathy (Pat Ha) the most sexually liberated in the group becomes attracted to Po (Ken Tong) who is an easier mate than others, who have been proven physically and mentally tough to be with for her. There's something to be said about simplicity and Patrick Tam is certainly a little here, a little there in his direction so let's try and break it down. Oh you should know that Stuart Ong plays a deserted Japanese Red Army soldier too...

Off the bat I should stress that in no way is Nomad uplifting when it comes down to what it has presented us with for 90 minutes. Dropping visual clues early of what turns out to be story strands about longing (especially Leslie Cheung's opening scene), Tam drifts equally in and out, almost frustratingly randomly as we meet the group separately or together. Whether it's fun shenanigans at a bathhouse or the males offering up a little typically male-ish rivalry, clear is that there's little society surrounding them. One key line even goes "We are society". Oh sure, there's mention of Louie studying fashion design and a willingness to open up to culture but there's devastation to come with that. Violent and bloody devastation.

I seem to remember Patrick Tam saying in an interview that Nomad was an response to what he saw as an obsession by youth of all things Japanese and his subjects in the film certainly overall doesn't seem to be going anywhere despite this past time. Why Nomad can be frustrating but ultimately rewarding once you suck on it a little, is that there's no immediacy to Tam's movie-language. Nothing says wow and why this is an important examination. Tam's direction does pick itself up as there's evidence of the youths being honest towards themselves and relatively respectful of their environment. No blame is put on the adults but perhaps there's no energy to do so. Within all this, we in essence have a basic relationship drama that goes unexpected, at times puzzling places... again PERHAPS connecting to this unhealthy obsession with their chosen hobby. So there's nothing truly anti-Japanese on display or anti-youth but rather, sympathy for those longing, drifting ones.

As Tam's last half hour plays out, the secrets, the how's and why's of the two relationships within the quartet pays off more and when what seems like a totally out of left field plot introduction comes at us with gory results, we finally thank Patrick Tam for being obvious. And since the thinking tank starts up too, there's certainly an effect to Nomad that is undeniable. But casual viewers not in the mood to stay alert AND be a bit annoyed at what seems like no events at all being played out, might only be in favour of the blood spilled. I don't blame you but you have been warned. Sometimes it IS good to go in with expectations.

The DVD:

Once available in a non-anamorphic presentation from Mei Ah, that out of print disc has unfortunately not been replaced by an anamorphic upgrade so Japan's King Records stepped in in the meantime to fill the void... for its audience that is as there are no English subtitles on their dvd.

The transfer is framed at 1.74:1, with anamorphic enhancement and for the most part possesses decent colours and clarity. However during many scenes, there is evidence of heavy yellow and black staining, sometimes all over the image that is surely due to preservation not having been the best over the years in Hong Kong.

The Cantonese (with sections in Japanese) Dolby Digital 2.0 track has the odd harshness on occasions but overall presents its aspects in a clear manner.

Only optional Japanese subtitles are provided but I was fortunate enough to be given a re-authored dvd that had the English translation added to it. That translation features some grave errors from time to time but makes the movie very coherent, which was totally needed.

As bonus, the King Records dvd features an Japanese language audio commentary by participants I can't decipher (menus are almost entirely in Japanese), text biographies in Japanese for Leslie Cheung, Pat Ha, Cecilia Yip, Ken Tong and Patrick Tam but the most surprising extra comes in the form of 5 deleted/extended scenes (9 minutes, 19 seconds in total) presented in rough looking, barely letterboxed aspect ratio, Chinese/English subtitles and Cantonese 2.0 audio. At the time of release, scenes were apparently taken cut (the two sex scenes are longer here) and this find is very pleasing to see. The slightly different opening credits isn't anything mind blowing (Patrick Tam's directing credit is written over the English title as opposed to in the feature where it appears before) but the final option contains extended gory violence which is always welcome. It's a shame elements weren't in good enough shape to be incorporated into the feature but considering the rarity of excised material from this time (and most other eras), I'm glad to see the inclusion.

If you highlight the top option in the main menu (which is "Play Movie") and press up, you'll be taken to a menu containing 12 Leslie Cheung songs from various movies (including Nomad). There's 47 minutes and of listening pleasure here.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson