A Moment of Romance is responsible for many a Hong
Kong Cinema cliché, and indeed the film is itself far
from original. A disaffected youth, a "good girl"
romantic interest and a cartoonish villain all figure into
the 1990 hit. Director Benny Chan has his way with the clichés,
and throws in enough slow motion, syrupy Cantopop montages
and hyperemotional crescendos to tax even the most weepy audience
member. However, regardless of its genre excessor perhaps
because of itthe film succeeds, and is even viewed a
classic of its genre.
Andy Lau is Wah Dee, a tough
triad member who gets drawn into a spiraling circle of events.
He's picked by fellow gangmember Trumpet (Tommy Wong) to be
the getaway driver in a jewel heist, but things don't go as
planned. The getaway is chaotic, and Dee takes a rich student,
Jojo (Wu Chien-Lien), hostage to make good his escape. Trumpet
wants her dead, as she's seen their faces, but Dee lets her
live, saying that he'll be responsible for her. Presumably,
Dee believes she'll let them off in exchange for her life,
but he doesn't even posit such an exchange. He merely puts
her on his bike, takes her home, and lets her go. He's like
a Chinese Clint Eastwood, only he rides bikes and looks like
Unfortunately, things are not
that easy. The cops find Jojo's purse at the crime scene and
drag her in for questioning. She still won't identify the
robbers, but Trumpet doesn't want to take any chances. Dee
rescues her again from Trumpet's clutches, but the seeds are
sown. With an internal gang war brewing, Trumpet wants Dee
dead, and the cops (led by Lau Kong) want him brought in.
And, Jojo wants his affections.
The "good girl loves bad
boy" scenario is far from new, but A Moment of Romance is far more than a teenybopper romantic fantasy. Dee is a
through-and-through triad, meaning he's not averse to violence
or criminal activity, but there's a basic morality within
him that prevents him from simply doing away with Jojo. His
existence reveals itself to be one of resigned self-loathing.
He's not happy with his life, but sees no real exit. It's
that internal angst that drives him to reject Jojo at first,
and even to mistreat her in hopes that she'll leave. Eventually
he accepts her love, but the choice is not made frivolously.
It's handled quietly, and with a subtle emotional weight.
Not that A Moment of Romance is devoid of the grandoise cinematic flourishes that characterized
most Hong Kong films of the day. There's a large helping of
slow motion, romanticized visuals and overblown Cantopop tunes
that line the way, but Benny Chan manages to use all of the
above without alienating his audience. The core emotions that
the film mines are so innately compelling that they're not
lost beneath bombastic montages or sudden flashes of gangland
violence. The actors neither overplay nor underplay the material,
and inhabit their roles perfectly.
None of the above would matter,
however, if it weren't for the character of Wah Dee or Andy
Lau's performance. Saving, and even loving Jojo may reaffirm
part of Dee's humanity, but his decisions have believable
and compelling consequences. The affirmation of Dee's morality
comes with a price, and only one outcome is truly possible.
Andy Lau brings a righteous anger and hidden tenderness to
an exceptional genre character. What's so compelling about
the character and the performance is that Wah Dee acts and
doesn't talk. The filmmakers go the character and action route
in telling this story, and the result is far better than what
you'd expect from this genre. (Kozo 1996/2003)