HONG KONG 1941 was a sizable hit on its home turf in 1984, and earned 29-year-old rising star Chow Yun-fat his first of 14 Best Actor nominations from the Hong Kong Film Awards. International breakout was a few years ahead, but the Chow charm is evident here and the camera certainly favors him at every opportunity.
When the Japanese conquer Hong Kong during their Pacific sweep in December of 1941, three friends struggle to survive the occupation after they fumble an escape attempt. ‘Fei’ (Yun-Fat) is a charismatic actor; rough-edged buddy ‘Keung’ (Alex Man) is a swaggering laborer; ‘Nam’ (Cecilia Yip) is Keung’s sweetheart, prone to seizures. Along with enduring the Japanese, they face trouble from collaborators profiting from the chaos.
With a little care, this could have been a better movie, as it has a viable story and capable actors going for it. Po-Chih Leong’s direction shows some flair, but period flavor is notably absent in details like hairstyles, props, attitudes and dialogue. The skimpy budget constrains needed scope: who knew Hong Kong was so thinly populated? Sammo Hung’s writing crams in too many subplots while soft-soaping the brutal nature of epic events in snap-shot coverage. Melodrama wins out in the choppy editing, and the jumpy mixture is bathed by Violet Lam’s syrupy score, which aims at Ennio Morricone grandeur but comes off like tinkling from a musical snow globe.
With Shih Kien (the head bad guy from Enter The Dragon), Wu Ma, Paul Chun (the student revolutionary Steve McQueen killed with an ax in The Sand Pebbles), and Stuart Ong. 100 minutes.