Raphael (Lai) and Vivian (Qi) are on their way to celebrate New Year
'97 in London.
Racing across town, they narrowly miss a party of children but career
off the road and are killed.
Vivian's daughter (Cheung) and Raphael's son (Wu) travel to England
in order to bury their parent's bodies, only to discover the 20
year affair which had taken place between the two.
Gathering their respective parent's belongings together and preparing
for their funerals, the two children gradually uncover two decades
worth of memories and the true story is revealed of how the two
parents' love blossomed.
Starting slowly, with Daniel Wu seeming uncomfortable with his role
and dialogue, this romantic drama develops into a moving and wholly
Although the film frequently moves backwards and forwards through
time, in order to paint a portrait of Raphael and Vivian's lives,
the direction is of such a high standard that this is achieved seamlessly.
These extended flashbacks are short films in their own right, and
go a long way in fleshing out the main characters' personalities.
Leon Lai and Shu Qi are both superb in their roles, and not only
make a convincing couple, but also rounded individuals.
The numerous flashbacks featuring the pair are very well done, and
both actors never behave older or younger than they should.
It's these two performances around which the film revolves, and
rarely do Wu or Qi appear out of their depth.
As mentioned previously, Daniel Wu's awkward start rather grated,
but his performance improved immeasurably over the next few scenes.
Alongside Nichola Cheung, both actors carve out impressive characters,
and though their screen time is relatively short, it's most definitely
My particular favourite scene between these two is the "Lily Pond"
- both create a wonderfully understated and moving moment from an
initially simple scene.
Not everything in the garden is rosy. A few of the English
actors were a bit too "Cor blimey, Guv'nor" for my liking, and some
of the flashback scenes rather oversimplified fairly heavyweight
issues - not to mention equipping Leon Lai with a particularly obvious
Listening to a Chinese band ruin "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", whilst
you're trying to follow a tender moment on screen, was also a particularly
The film's recurrent use of the piece "Try to Remember" (you get
the original, Chinese, and instrumental versions throughout) at
times felt like overkill - which was a shame. A lot of scenes worked
exceptionally well whilst this played in the background, the lyrics
vocalising Vivian and Raphael's predicament and feelings for one
Also, a few scenes get a bit too schmaltzy. Thankfully Mabel Cheung
seemed keen not to dwell too long on this aspect, and by and large
presents a largely "syrup-free" story with some genuinely affecting
their usually high-standard transfer, Universe disappointed me with
their treatment of this release.
Although it's almost completely free of marks and scratches, the
detail levels irritatingly bounced between good and excellent. Some
scenes appear soft, and show mild trails, while others look crisp and near perfect.
Whether this occasional softness was actually a conscious decision
by the director to give the film a slightly "dreamy" look, I don't
know. However, this inconsistency makes for a somewhat frustrating
experience, and at times became almost distracting.
Black levels are good, though not great, but show minor artifacting in a few scenes.
The most striking aspect of this transfer is its colour - the differing
lighting in the flashback, and present day scenes is very impressive.
When needed, these colours are muted and discreet, while at other
times bold and vibrant.
It's just a shame the rest of the transfer wasn't able to replicate
the same level of consistency.
Dolby Stereo soundtrack is certainly not going to knock your socks
off. It does however contain some very natural surround effects,
which create a great deal of atmosphere, with dialogue also being
Many pieces of music are played throughout the film, and all sound
perfect, often using the surround speakers. This, along with the
other impressive elements of the mix, creates an enveloping soundtrack
which really adds to your enjoyment of the film.
of almost every Hong Kong film which contains English dialogue are
Often, the Cantonese or Mandarin lines are transcribed perfectly
whilst the English is so far removed from what is being said that
it becomes distracting.
City Of Glass is the only disc I've yet seen which manages to not
only present superb Chinese translations, but also equally spot-on
The major upside of this improved English subtitling, is that if
English is dropped into a line of dialogue, you can happily read
and listen without having a poorly translated subtitle disrupting
In a completely
pointless, though admittedly nice touch, the main menu uses a variety
of wipes to change its background image.
Pleasant as this is, a few of the images used are slightly grainy,
although all are well chosen stills.
An unfortunate downside to these
differing backgrounds is that some of the images used are rather
close to the menu selection button colours. This means that you
briefly lose track of what you're highlighting.
This problem of the "disappearing button highlighting" is also apparent
on the Star Files screen, where the majority of options are camouflaged
by the background image.
Also, the chapter-stop menus are a bit of a mess, with a window
in which plays a fairly lengthy clip of the selected chapter.
Whilst the idea is good i.e. being able to see a preview of the
scene before you are actually transported to that point on the disc,
its execution is not.
There is no way of selecting another chapter preview once one has
already been selected, and each clip played has quite dreadful sound
quality throughout its two to three minute run-time.
These irritating elements unfortunately consign the chapter selection
screen to the rubbish bin, with the whole affair being more of a
hindrance than a help.
A disappointing element of the extras are the Star Files.
Universe's recurrent failure to provide biographies for all of its
main cast members is evident here again. Leon Lai, Shu Qi, Nichola
Cheung, Mabel Cheung, Raymond Chow and Law Kai-Yu each get interesting
profiles, with the exception of Daniel Wu.
Aside from this, the theatrical trailer is also included.
The film covers a lot of
ground in its 111 minutes, but my attention never wavered from the
screen, and surely that, above all else, is the mark of a great
These are the types of carefully planned and superbly acted films
I should be watching, instead of wasting my life with brain-dead
rubbish like Future Cops.
Having had the misfortune of watching the aforementioned Future Cops several days before this, my hunger for
Hong Kong cinema had taken a dip.
Thankfully, City Of Glass not only reaffirmed my love of Hong Kong
cinema, but also gave me a wonderful way to spend an evening.