Benny Chan Capsule Reviews

Benny Chan Capsule Reviews

A Moment of Romance (1990) — February 22, 2016

Nobody pops the collar of their denim jacket quite like Andy Lau.

As Tears Go By told in the style of the last five minutes of All About Ah-long. Directed by Benny Chan, produced by Johnnie To, Ringo Lam, and Wong Jing (among others). To claims much of the authorship credit, and he’ll return to the romance of the motorcyclist again and again throughout his career (notably in Needing You... and Romancing in Thin Air). Every moment is huge, every light dramatic (neon pinks and greens and the electric blue of the Hong Kong night), every explosion gorgeous, every moment of violence an anguished outburst of teenage rage. Andy Lau is beautiful, Jacklyn Wu is sweet. But she’s not Maggie Cheung and the pop songs aren’t “Take My Breath Away”.

A Moment of Romance II (1993) – April 24, 2023

Inverts everything about the first film and Jacklyn Wu is the only one who emerges unscathed, but even she is forgotten about as the film's true climax is in the motorcycle love triangle between Aaron Kwok (even more flaccid than usual), his one-footed buddy (Roger Kwok), and bald-headed Anthony Wong (under-developed: sometimes he's a respectable rival, others an outright villain).

Shout out to veteran actor Kwan Hoi-san (the kindly gang boss from Hard-Boiled, the most recognizable role of a career that started in 1949) for being almost 70 years old and still beating the hell out of Aaron Kwok.

Big Bullet (1996) — April 14 , 2016

Highly entertaining cop film that feels like a dry run for the formula Johnnie To and Milkyway Image would perfect over the next decade. Expect the Unexpected, Breaking News, and PTU take place in the same world, Lifeline borrows the essential plot structure. Lau Ching-wan plays a great cop who doesn’t play by the rules, tending toward violence and insubordination. He’s busted down to the Emergency Unit, sharing a first-responding police van with a cross-section of uniformed cops. But he and his new team continue to hunt down the gang of gangsters who first liberate a prisoner and then try to sneak a bunch of money out of the country. The gang is lead by long-haired Anthony Wong, a grimy riff on his Hard-Boiled villain, and Yu Rongguang (Iron Monkey himself).

The subtext isn’t overplayed, but is nonetheless unmistakable: everyone in the film is constantly asking the same question: “who’s your superior?” It’s a world in which order is completely breaking down. Almost as bad as the criminals are the men who abuse power, who enforce their superior position in the chain of command to constrict our heroes in their investigation. The criminals too have a strictly enforced hierarchy: their boss, a mysterious white man, has threatened them with death if they don’t steal the money. A vision of things to come: against arbitrary exercises of power, only the innate character of Hong Kong (free-thinking, independent, street smart, a little crude) can prevent the wealth of the colony from being stolen by the fleeing white people and/or the authoritarian Chinese.

Heroic Duo (2003) — February 13, 2013

A Benny Chan riff on a Johnnie To setup, but without the elegance or willingness to go all the way down the narrative rabbit hole.

The White Storm (2013) — July 2, 2019

Another one of those star-filled, super-glossy Hong Kong action movies that is packed with big emotions and bright lights and crisp gunfire and crazy plot twists where absolutely nothing makes the least bit of sense at any given moment. But not in a fun way–in a really, really boring way. Like the Overheard or Cold War movies. They’re the faintest echo of A Better Tomorrow, without any of the soul or individuality that made the good Heroic Bloodshed movies actually good. Infernal Affairs has a lot to answer for.

Call of Heroes (2016) — December 3, 2016

Almost definitely the best martial arts movie of 2016. Eddie Peng and Wu Jing prowling around the edges of a kind of High Noon remake with Lau Ching-wan as the abandoned sheriff and Louis Koo as the captured psychotic villain. Sammo Hung choreographs some of his best action scenes in years then rides in at the end at the head of a victorious army. Director Benny Chan overstuffs it a bit with Morricone-light and sweeping vistas and profound speeches about living on ones knees or dying standing up, but the movie looks pretty good, with what appear to be some nifty 3D effects and some truly cartoonish CGI.