Slow Fade (1999)

Directed by: Daniel Chan
Written by: Kyle Davison
Producers: Daniel Chan & Steven Yip
Starring: Ken Wong, Jimmy Wong, Josie Ho, Akira Koeiyama, Sara Au & Roy Cheung

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Having survived a self-inflicted overdose, unwilling gangster Fin (Ken Wong - Downtown Torpedoes) at the hospital receives attention from battered girl Kim (Josie Ho - Butterfly, Purple Storm). He doesn't know her true reasoning for doing so but recognizes the humanity in her. However Fin's violent past, having lead to the murder of his wife Shannon (Sara Au), is not done with him. In flashbacks we see the moment that set Fin's life course for good when friend Alex (Jimmy Wong - Phantom Of Snake) recruits him for work in the triad world...

The promising debut from Daniel Chan, Slow Fade made little ripples anywhere (1*) but this independent effort deserves a light as it's a thinking man's triad action piece. Despite it being designed towards that doesn't mean it's a rousing virgin entrance onto the movie scene and Daniel Chan certainly doesn't achieve confidence in the viewer with his sped up tunnel visuals accompanied by techno music during the opening. Less arthouse overall though, although his extreme colour statements leaves a lot to be desired (few directors know the usage of colours to ACTUAL effect), at its best moments Slow Fade manages to reach out enough to be regarded as interesting introduction by a new filmmaker.

Writer Kyle Davison surely can't be stupid enough (or can he?) to think the template is fresh material but for Ken Wong's Fin starting over only to fall into the same downward spiral again, you have elements to treat like new or at least with affecting, striking effect. This is achieved to some degree but the term sketchy could very much be applied here and it unfortunately is struck upon crucial characters. Knowing enough at times but also too little, Ken Wong's Fin in voice-over muses over the definition of past, present and future. However there is way too little substance dropped in for us to figure out if Fin is such a low-life that he's just easily persuaded to join the triad world or if choices are limited anyway. For his present and future story, the motivation is somewhat there but this past in need to be forgotten seems to have been by director Chan's as well.

At the same time when Davison and Chan begin portraying the recycled elements, Slow Fade reveals some honest strengths about the endless circle of triad life and violence. It speaks to a numbness not only apparent in this seedy way of life but for the ordinary man in the "clean" world as well. Drenching proceedings at times in angelic light and certainly open with his religious symbolism, why we even contemplate the potential place in the after life for a character like Fin is credit to Daniel achieving a simplistic but noble effect for this theme. As Fin opens up his minor streak of sweetness combined with irrational behaviour trying to kick his drug habit, there is minor engaging cinema on display for a reel or two here, especially when focus lies on both the broken Fin but also broken Kim.

Josie Ho's character does tend to be a forgotten inclusion by director Chan along the way but the acclaimed actress manages to do good work with what's written for her and to Kyle Davison's credit, he's given her meat to work with. A self proclaimed expert in figuring people out, there's a difficultly in interacting with them that is immediately apparent in Kim and perhaps Fin is the only one she's ever been able to do so with. One of those birds not so much wanting but in need to break free, Ho makes us feel for her but as said, she's also dropped from the narrative only to be quickly brought back in the film's destructive ways. By then Chan has made up his mind while we as well have figured it out so the effect is not unexpected. Problem is also that it feels like solutions figured out by the roll of the dice, connecting little to the character development of past reels.

Symbolism of rebirth thought of too late by higher beings is a poignant thought but Slow Fade doesn't in the end emerge with as much dramatic edge as it once had. No doubt we're treated to a more focused, stylish, bloody and even eccentric triad drama (eccentric being an element Chan isn't quite as good with compared to Johnnie To). Mentioned focus is one of those very welcome traits that should be allowed to work on but as of 2006, no Daniel Chan in directing capacity has turned up on the scene. Working decent effect out of his tragic spiral theme and getting a surprisingly well-honed dramatic performance out of usually over intense Ken Wong, Slow Fade not so much emerges fully but says "pick-a-boo look at me!". Those who will gladly look on are those with an interest in seeing Hong Kong cinema give new talent the spotlight they deserve. Focus Films and Andy Lau, do you know of Daniel Chan?

The DVD:

Only available on vcd in Hong Kong, German label Asian Film Network presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 approximately. However a disc authoring error has caused the non-anamorphic letterboxed image to be encoded in anamorphic widescreen, resulting in the transfer appearing squashed. I couldn't make my player settings display the image correctly without re-encoding and re-authoring the dvd myself. As for the transfer quality otherwise, there's minor print damage, colours display nicely and while grain can be spotted, some is no doubt intentional. It's a a transfer that looks very much like film and not artificially boasted at the dvd production stage.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix (featuring some use of English, Japanese and even French I believe) has clear dialogue for the most part (occasionally music drowns it out), effects and presents a fairly engrossing experience, working with all speakers.

The English subtitles slip a little on the grammar in a few select places but are overall well-written. German subtitles are also available. The first disc of this "special deluxe edition" first offers up trailers for Slow Fade, Junk, Unlucky Monkey, Blues Harp, Score (actually Score 2 - The Big Fight) and Gangsters. Moving onto to more specific Slow Fade extras, the program Behind The Scenes (21 minutes, 27 seconds) has an English speaking interviewer behind the lens that occasionally interacts with the on-going movie shoot but mostly just shoots raw footage of various scenes being created. No subtitles accompany the program but the Chinese set chatter doesn't prevent the intent of the program to come through. It's mostly basic footage however but seeing Ken Wong perform his own stunts as well as injecting a needle into his arm for the opening scene is signs of dedication worth catching from behind the scenes.

Kyle Davison Über Slow Fade (Kyle Davison On Slow Fade) predictably focuses more on the script, shot at the very noisy set in Hong Kong. Kyle goes over character, structure, how his English language screenplay had little fixed dialogue and worked more as a template for the translation into Chinese. Some inane questions about the heroin influence in 90s cinema possibly being taken into Slow Fade doesn't prevent Davison from being an informative interview subject. This program lasts 8 minutes, 58 seconds.

A 6 page colour booklet in English has production notes by composer Daniel Lam on the creation of the score and soundtrack of the film. The challenges, errors and road blocks encountered during post-production across the time zones as well as upon release gives an additional, welcome insight into the film (Daniel Lam's gear list is even included). The track listing for the the soundtrack cd is also printed and suitably that is the second disc of the package!

The booklet explains that some of the score never made it into the final mix of the film due to post-production errors so this is really a 2002/2003 compilation of the music in that regard. I never thought the music distinguished itself while watching Slow Fade but things approve a little when listened to in this form. We do have to bear with overly long tracks of whatever techno genre featured (not my cup of tea, hence not knowing) but the ambient numbers as well as the ones featuring basically a single piano creates fine mood. "Slow Fade Theme" sung by Josie Ho is the sole terrific entry amongst the tracks.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) It had a Hong Kong box office take of HK $32,625 during a six day run and thanks to its drug theme, not much promotion anywhere either. This included the refusal to give extended airplay to the theme song from Josie Ho due to it having, in the words of composer Daniel Lam, "too few lyrics and thus not suiting their typical canton pop programming format". Nice.