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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

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

directed by Peter Chan
Hong Kong 1996

Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai light up the screen in Comrades, Almost a Love Story, an acclaimed drama from director Peter Chan (He's a Woman, She's a Man). Mainland immigrant Li Xiaojun (Leon Lai) arrives in Hong Kong in 1986 to build a better future. Hindered by language and customs, he comes to befriend Hong Kong girl Qiao Li (Maggie Cheung), a hard-working young woman who favors money over friends. Qiao Li is initially wary of becoming friends with the backwards Xiaojun, but the two find much more in common than they ever realized. They go from friends to casual lovers, but times and circumstances drive a wedge between them. Xiaojun returns to his Mainland fiancee (Kristy Yang), and Qiao Li takes up with a benevolent triad (Eric Tsang). But fate has much more in store for the star-crossed pair. Hong Kong changes and grows, and Xiaojun and Qiao do the same. People live and die, come and go, yet somehow Qiao Li and Xiaojun remain forever intertwined...
 

Showered with awards at the 16th Hong Kong Film Awards, Comrades, Almost a Love Story is a heartfelt drama about the love that grows and changes between two inextricably linked individuals. In total, the film took home nine Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Maggie Cheung took home Best Actress honors for her luminous starring performance, and Eric Tsang was rewarded with a Best Supporting Actor trophy. One of the most accomplished and rewarding dramas produced during the nineties, Comrades, Almost a Love Story is a thoughtful, touching portrait of Hong Kong and its unique individuals.

***

Almost... a masterpiece...

 

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.

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Comparison:

Mei Ah - Region 0 - NTSC vs. RE-ISSUE Mei Ah - Region 0 - NTSC vs. Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray

1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - LEFT

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

Box Covers

 

North American Customers:

Global Customers

Distribution

Mei Ah

Region 0  - NTSC

Mei Ah
Region 0 - NTSC
Warner (HK)
Region FREE -
Blu-ray
Runtime 1:56:04 (starts count from FBI warning) 1:55:48 1:55:54.666
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

1.85:1 Disc Size: 23,277,009,274 bytes

Feature Size: 23,207,147,520 bytes

Total Bitrate: 23.00 Mbps

Single-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

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

Bitrate:

Blu-ray

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)

DTS-HD Master Audio Chinese 2168 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2168 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Subtitles English, Simplified Chinese (NON-REMOVABLE) English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese or NONE English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Korean, 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

Release Information:
Studio:
Warner

 

1.85:1 Disc Size: 23,277,009,274 bytes

Feature Size: 23,207,147,520 bytes

Total Bitrate: 23.00 Mbps

Single-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

 

Edition Details:
• Set of mini cards with scenes from the film

 

Blu-ray Release Date: march 2nd, 2017
Standard Blu-ray case

Chapters 10

 

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were obtained directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Warner (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray April 17': I'm still totally enamored with Comrades: Almost a Love Story. I had high expectations for the 1080P image and, although, not quite fulfilled - it's a leap ahead of the old artefact-ridden DVDs that probably don't even play anymore. We can finally see it in the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio - more information in the frame - a clearer, cleaner picture with abundant texture. Colors become richer and there is even some infrequent depth. Contrast also takes a leap. The resulting visuals may not be demo - but I'm so grateful for the vast improvement over the existing SDs.

Audio is transferred via a DTS-HD Master in a, superfluous, 5.1 surround bump at 2168 kbps in the original Cantonese (16-bit). There is some pop-singing in the film and the score is credited to the team of Jun Fun and Tsang-Hei Chiu. The film's perfectly suited sentimental themes sound, significantly, more impacting - tugging your heat strings - in the lossless. The surround is only notable in some of the outdoor marketplace scenes and the celebration. There are optional subtitles in English, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, and Korean on Warner's Region FREE Blu-ray disc.

No extras save a small package of tobacco-replica cards inside the case (see image below.)

All at ounce, Chung King Express, In the Mood For Love, and Sliding Doors, Comrades: Almost a Love Story gets some decent, if not stellar, treatment on digital. As Jonathan Rosenbaum identified, this is much more than a simple 'fluff' romance - there are symbols and themes of identity, missed opportunity, coincidence - and it's really worth your viewing time. I LOVE the film and give it a very strong recommendation!

***

ON THE DVD: 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"


Menus

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

NONE

NONE

NONE

 

 

Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray

Replica 'tobacco cards' for the film included with the Blu-ray


CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

English Subtitle Sample - Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray

 

 

1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 



1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

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


1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

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


1) Mei Ah - Region 1 - NTSC - TOP

2) Mei Ah (REISSUE) - Region 1 - NTSC - MIDDLE

3) Warner Home Video (HK) - Region FREE - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray Captures

Box Covers

 

North American Customers:

Global Customers

Distribution

Mei Ah

Region 0  - NTSC

Mei Ah
Region 0 - NTSC
Warner (HK)
Region FREE -
Blu-ray


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Blu-ray

Sound:

Blu-ray

Extras: Blu-ray

 



 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gary Tooze