City Of Glass
Directed By:
Mabel Cheung
Run Time:
111 mins
Producer: Universe
CANTONESE 5.1, Mandarin 5.1
Removable Chinese (S&T), English
W/S Subtitles:
1.85:1 Non Anamorphic
Drama / Romance - IIA

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 satisfying experience.
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 well spent.
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 wig.
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 distracting moment.

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 another.

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 performances.


Expecting 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.


The re-mixed 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 perfectly clear.
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.


The downfall of almost every Hong Kong film which contains English dialogue are its subtitles.
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 English ones.
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 the scene.


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 film.

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.

MOVIE 8/10