(aka "Comrades: Almost a Love Story", "Tian Mi Mi" )

directed by Peter Chan
Hong Kong 1996

Almost... a masterpiece...

 

There is a barrier that relationship movies can cross for the male gender. Passing this floating line garners the dreaded moniker; "CHICK FLICK !". Regardless of it's title (taken from a song by integral plot symbol Teresa Teng), Peter Chan's "Comrades: Almost a Love Story" keeps a healthy distance from that nebulous mark.

 

Make no mistake this is unapologetically romantic and genuinely moving, but like many modern non-Hollywood directors, Chan is able to navigate us around the pratfalls and foibles of the plight of star-crossed lovers without cloying sentimentality.

Perhaps one of the strongest points in this films favor is that there is nothing really to dislike. It touches upon a number of cultural significances, mild politics and un-gushing love scenes, but none too heavy-handed or over-played. Combine this with the brilliance of expressive and magnetic actress, Maggie Cheung, and a tumultuously changing ten year span in Hong Kong's history ( 1986-96' ) and you have a strong contender for use of the word "masterpiece". If that seems strong, "masterful" is quite adequate to describe Ivy Ho's clever script and Chan's restrained direction. I can understand both its virtual sweep of the 1997 Hong Kong Film Awards (9 statues including director, film, screenplay and actress) and inclusion in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Top 10 of 1997.

Cantonese Teen-Pop idol Leon Lai plays in this his first significant film feature as lovable innocent XiaoJun Li. Recently off the train in Kowloon from China's mainland (city of Tientsin, in the North), hoping to land a job and save enough to bring his over his girlfriend and eventually get an apartment together. His endearing "fish out of water", rootless bumpkin portrayal is done quite well, with fundamental purity and loyalty brightly shining through. 

Qiao Li (Maggie Cheung) represents the other side of the émigré coin. She is a practical opportunist seeking the "golden goose" in Kowloon. She outwardly appears willing to forgo even her principals to achieve the riches and success that she craves. After the stock market crash in 87' she requires some financial assistance which she finds in a kindly dumpling-of-a-man named Pao, a low-end gangster, who is also, always "on the hustle".

We are shown the bustle of the big city from the naiveté vision of XiaoJun Li, whose first foray as a stranger in a strange land is his use of a never-before-seen escalator. His lack of bank account, language barrier and non-obtrusive pride are also visible, as he exaggerates his living quarters and employment position to those back home.

Never over-utilized are the sub-plots and prevalent theme of cultural identity loss. These come in the form of Li's love of basketball, Aunt Rosie's crush on Hollywood icon William Holden, MacDonald's, Mickey Mouse or even the inventive camera shots from inside the ATM. Chan proves that the greatest attribute of a director can be subtle restraint. Regardless, this is not a political film but his point is intelligently made. With both characters ending up in New York city is yet another quiet statement: Perhaps Hong Kong is not the land of opportunity that many mainlanders surmise?

Chan's commitment to this film is shown as he gave up part of his directors salary to ensure the perfect casting of Miss Cheung, who had recently returned from a two year sabbatical of world travel. With a small budget the film is able to maintain a fitting unpretentious aura. My only apprehension for my rating being its strong romantic flair, which, after all, is what the film is all about, even if it is capable of disguising itself so well.out of

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DVD Comparison:

Mei Ah - Region 0 - NTSC vs. RE-ISSUE Mei Ah - Region 0 - NTSC

(Mei Ah R1 - NTSC-Left vs. Mei Ah RE_ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-Right)

DVD Box Covers

 

 

Distribution

Mei Ah

Region 0  - NTSC

Mei Ah
Region 0 - NTSC
Runtime 1:56:04 (starts count from FBI warning) 1:55:48
Video

1.75:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 4.79 mb/s

NTSC 704x480 29.97 f/s

1.75:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.50
NTSC 704x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Mei-Ah

Bitrate:

Mei-Ah re-issue

Audio Cantonese, Mandarin (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)

Cantonese or DUB: Mandarin (Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo),  Cantonese or DUB: Mandarin (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)

Subtitles English, Simplified Chinese (NON-REMOVABLE) English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese or NONE
Features Release Information:
Distributor: Mei Ah

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterbox - 1.74:1

Edition Details:
• Region 0- NTSC 
• Color, Widescreen

DVD Release Date: 2000
Black Plastic
Keep Case

Chapters 23

Release Information:
Distributor: Mei Ah

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen letterbox - 1.76:1

Edition Details:
• Region 0- NTSC 
• Color, Closed-captioned, Widescreen
• 9 Chapters
• Language and Subs Menu Choices
• Data Bank: Synopsis, Cast

DVD Release Date: 2002 ?
Blue Plastic
Keep Case

Chapters 9

 

Comments: Bit of a mess I'm afraid. I actually ordered the RE-ISSUE with removable subs first and the other Mei Ah version with the burned in subs almost 2 years later thinking it was improved. So which came first ?... I have no idea. Now the burned in subs version does have some bonus points: they didn't fiddle with the color as much as the RE-ISSUE where the skin tones are decidedly more red than they should be. Also the RE-ISSUE has big-time contrast boosting which I despise. You can see it plainly as they have turned black and white in the opening sequence into an almost sepia shade. But the saving grace of the RE-ISSUE is the lack or burned in subs and it is slightly sharper. So, by "mess" I mean that neither version is admirable. The RE-ISSUE with the better sound (5.1 options) is from a different print (look at screen cap #6 : bridge of Leon Lai's nose). The mark does not appear in the RE-ISSUE. Okay the final piece of this puzzle is the packaging. Mine came in the exact same box (cover) with the exact same imprint on the DVD. I have had to write a "R" on one to remind me it has the removable subs. How crazy is this? Mei Ah have wrecked a great film. This masterpiece deserves much better treatment. Ohh yeah, the burned-in-subs version is slightly horizontally cropped.

You know re-looking at these captures I am very tempted to rate the Burned-in-subs version as the one with the better image... I am NOT a fan or color manipulation and contrast boosting... so I'll actually leave it as a toss up.

- Gary W. Tooze


Recommended Reading in Chinese/Hong Kong/Taiwanese Cinema (CLICK COVERS or TITLES for more information)

Check out more in "The Library"


 



DVD Menus

(
Mei Ah R1 - NTSC-Left vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-Right)

NONE

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Screen Captures

 

(Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC-TOP vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-BOTTOM)



(Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC-TOP vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-BOTTOM)


(Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC-TOP vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-BOTTOM)



(
Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC-TOP vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-BOTTOM)

NOTE the washed out color mess on the bottom RE-ISSUE !


(Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC-TOP vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-BOTTOM)



(
Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC-TOP vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-BOTTOM)

NOTE: Print damage (Lai's nose) is not present in re-issue indicating a probable different print.


(Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC-TOP vs. Mei Ah RE-ISSUE - Region 0 - NTSC-BOTTOM)


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Sound:

Mei Ah RE-ISSUE

Extras: Mei Ah RE-ISSUE
Menu: Mei Ah RE-ISSUE

 



 


 

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Gary Tooze

Mississauga, Ontario,

   CANADA