Those Were The Days (1995)

Directed by: Billy Tang
Written by: Raymond Lee, Wong Ho-Wa & Chan Wa
Producers: Raymond Wong & Raymond Lee
Starring: Eric Mo, Joey Man, Moses Chan, Chan Kwok-Bong, Kent Cheng, Yim Gong-Ming, Kirk Wong, & William Ho

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Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1996:
Best New Performer (Eric Mo)

Chan Wa (Eric Mo) recaps his youth days in the triads and as a drug addict. Now free of those burdens, we witness what punishments he had to take along the way along with buddies such as Ko Fei (Moses Chan)...

Out of his dark but cinematic journey through the Category III rating, creating exploitation classics such as Run And Kill and Red To Kill in the process, the underrated Billy Tang began another series of films unknowingly. I.e. one of the MANY Those Were The Days flicks that showcased the lack of creativity some folks had in handing out English titles to movies. One was part of the Young And Dangerous universe, another a fun send-up of 1960s Hong Kong cinema industry imagery and Billy Tang brought us a drugs drama. Bringing with him cast and crew friends, notably Red To Kill writer Wong Ho-Wa and actor Kent Cheng (Run And Kill), we witness a change of pace as he brings less of a punishing drama AND....below that III-rating. Noble and competently executed, overall the content of Those Were The Days annoys as there existed opportunities to create something more long lasting.

Interesting is the word though and although many movies can be argued to possess interesting possibilities, Tang runs with the triad/drugs angle with enough spirit to actually mean what he's doing. The picture is age old but felt as he paints it via the voice over from Chan Wa. Here's a youth (and other youths) who are pretty much decided on the fact that they can expect nothing good from life. So turning to the triad lifestyle (but arguing they are part of the heroic society triads ONCE were), the need to kill just to have some kind of other benefits is well worth it, even if it's only brotherly benefits. But it's a delusion and although we know Chan Wa and buddies are going to come out of this alive, we do wonder of course at what cost. The groups easy answer is that everything sucks so let's make it suck a little less is the way into the world of drugs here. Moses Chan's Ko Fei speaks of living with constant fear and the drugs make him feel a little less so. I'll buy it...give me! Up to this point, Tang creates passable drama (in particular a poetic montage showing the main two characters that are caring for Chan Wa), visual competence but also drawn out triad brawls and at that key point where drugs take over, sloppy storytelling overall does as well.

Here Moses Chan shouts his heart out, basically crushing the world around the Eric Mo character and what could've been punishing and meant something instead brings out more rampant voice over, internal chatter and poor choice of score (major Canto-pop inclusion all throughout the flick) and it's a shame. It wouldn't have turned Those Were The Days into premium stuff but just a little bit more brave and dedicated filmmaking. And it's not easy to twist and squeeze to blame everyone else around the filmmaker because ultimately he's responsible.

The ordeal of addiction, more montages, Canto-pop and little weight to the connection between Joey Man's Kiddy and Chan Wa, Those Were The Days rears a little competence here and there but overall stretches viewer investment to the thinnest. Many scenes, crucial ones, are drawn out to infinity for the sake of drama and enough's enough echoes often in our heads, especially during the lowest times of Chan Wa who is played with dedication by Eric Mo. He's asked to go the extreme melodrama route however along with most of his cast and it's only Kent Cheng as the father that injects the terrific depth Tang aims for. Doing little but communicating a lot as the tormented father no longer in control of his son Chan Wa, it's the things such as body shivers that speaks volumes of his character. Billy Tang has been comfortable with Cheng before but overall misses an opportunity to mean something with Those Were The Days. There's a story arc and structure to admire and to feel but managing to elevate himself very little above that concept ultimately hurts the chances for anyone to matter.

The DVD:

Widesight presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1, approximately. Better than usual coming from this company, the cinema print is reasonably clear, colourful and free of damage.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 and even though I don't have a system like that, Widesight's obvious remix isn't properly centered for dialogue so best switch to watching this hollow track through your TV.

The imbedded Chinese/English subtitles are readable at all times, coherent and come with very few spelling errors. There are no extras.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson