Criterion Prediction #251: Made in Hong Kong, by Alexander Miller
Title: Made in Hong Kong
Director: Fruit Chan
Cast: Sam Lee, Carol Lam, Neiky Yim Hui Chi, Wenders Li
Synopsis: Autumn Moon (Lee) is a slacker from the projects of Hong Kong, he’s got his developmentally disabled pal Sylvester (Li), and as a low ranking triad, he’s working as a debt collector. It’s not long before Moon’s fortunes change when he falls for Ping (Chi), a young woman afflicted with renal failure and needs a kidney transplant; inspired to seek a new course, Moon sets out to better his life and save Ping’s, but his impulsive and reckless tendencies might be his undoing.
Critique: Made in Hong Kong opens with Moon beating on some guy because, we gather from his nihilistic opening narration, that he bullied his mentally disabled buddy Sylvester. Moon starts wailing on this guy, knocking him into towers of plastic containers, chasing him around the narrow aisles of (what looks like) a fish market; he grabs a dead pig by the hind legs, whips him with it, kicks him on the ground. There’s a ferocity to the scene, the camera is shaky in keeping with the action, you can tell Sam Lee is trying his best to pull his best punches, but he’s actually hitting this guy. Everyone in the market is staring at them, and the bustling sounds of the market buzz over the soundtrack. The film’s aware of this combustive energy, and Fruit Chan presses the youth-gone-wild subgenre into the packed streets of Hong Kong with the spirit and inspiring strength of the neorealist tradition. You feel that some of the scenes are blocked and framed on the fly. The cloistered, humid streets and apartment buildings are the backdrops, and before this begins sounding like the dunderheaded “city as a character” thing this is very much a “Hong Kong” movie in that Fruit Chan is capturing a period as the British lease on port city’s is coming to a close.
The identity of Hong Kongers was caught in a wave of societal miasma and social apathy. Interiority and entrapment are recurring visual motifs. We’re continually peering through metal grates, chain-link fences, reinforced metallic window panes. Moon’s apartment building is a concrete pen with a tight room, and Chan digs into them with decidedly clever shooting techniques. The street-savvy aesthetic is matched by anxious flights of nervy expression, dreams, and nightmares elevate us to an open skyline. Fruit Chan carries us to inexplicably resonant emotional beats. Made in Hong Kong is a revisionist crime flick with arthouse sensibilities, political undercurrent, and some queer flourishes. It fits in the unique subset of handover anxiety movies, Fallen Angels, Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai), Too Many Ways to be No.1 (Johnnie To/Wai Kai-Fai), Comrades, Almost a Love Story (Peter Chan) and Fruit Chan’s own The Longest Summer, an even more feisty film from the same year.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: The Criterion Collection has come a long way in terms of their Hong Kong/Chinese movies, not solely leaning on the arthouse credentials of Wong Kar-wai but crossing into genre fare with Jackie Chan, and King Hu. However, the Hong Kong New Wave is still relegated to the “for fans only” territory, getting the work of Ann Hui or Alex Cheung takes some effort. Recently a newly restored Made in Hong Kong received a release via Masters of Cinema, by the looks of the restoration trailer Chan’s film looks terrific. As has been the case in the past, the Master of Cinema is sometimes a preamble for Criterion releases, and it feels like the climate is ready to embrace Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong.