A War Named Desire
MEI AH
 
Starring:
Directed By:
Alan Mak
Year:
2000
Run Time:
89 mins
Producer: Mei Ah
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Languages:
CANTONESE 5.1, Cantonese 2.1, Mandarin 5.1, Mandarin 2.1
Subtitles:
Chinese (S&T), English
W/S Subtitles:
Yes
Ratio:
1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Region:
NTSC 0
Genre:
Heroic Bloodshed / Drama - IIB
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MOVIE
9/10

Travelling to Cambodia in search of his older brother Charles, Jones (Daniel Chan) and his girlfriend Jess (Pace Wu) find life a lot harsher than in Hong Kong.
Nearly 15 years have passed since the brothers met, Charles (Francis Ng) having left with the family savings. After their mother dies, Jones believes it time that the money is paid back...with interest.
However, Jones doesn't get quite what he bargained for, and after being framed for the murder of a local gang boss, must not only heal the rift between him and his brother, but also find the real culprit.

Directorial flourishes punctuate this superbly acted and beautifully scored film from little known director Alan Mak.
Although both Daniel Chan and Pace Wu are equally solid in their roles, it's Francis Ng's portrayal of Charles which sets the film alight.
Working extremely well alongside Dave Wong, Francis exudes a ruthlessness which makes his triad character both utterly believable and totally cold. Thankfully, Ng also adds an emotional centre to his character which raises him far above many a Hong Kong anti-hero.

Whilst Gigi Leung's involvement in the film is slight, her impact is massive. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, she and Charles ballroom dance whilst being surrounded by a large group of rival gang members. At the slightest command, both draw their weapons and decimate their attackers.
Although this scene could have felt like any other action set-piece from a HK film, its direction follows the music, leaving the pair to literally waltz past their opponents.
Neither overdoing or underplaying the relationship of the two characters, director Mak creates a nice balance to their scenes, where little is said but much is understood.

Above all else, this 2000 production reminded me of an aspect of Hong Kong cinema which is often overlooked - the soundtrack. An eclectic mix of musical styles is blended with the superb visuals with an assurance I've not seen in a long time.
A wonderful acoustic guitar piece accompanies the film's opening, setting the tone and standard for what is to come.
This high standard is upheld throughout, as dance, canto-pop and instrumental music is married perfectly to the movie's visuals.

If the film has one flaw, it's that the epilogue seems a little disappointing at first. However, on repeat viewings it actually makes more sense, and wraps up the film nicely.
If you're looking for a sign that Hong Kong movie-making is on the up, and that Francis Ng is one of the most gifted actors of his generation, A War Named Desire is the perfect place to start.

PICTURE
6/10

A somewhat unsatisfactory presentation is offered by Mei Ah, which just about gets the job done.
A rather soft, although reasonably clean, transfer is not helped by the fact that Mei Ah's encoding remains distinctly second-rate.
The artifacting, poor shadow detail, and black levels certainly don't help the viewing experience, although it's far from unwatcheable.

At times the transfer sharpens up nicely, but overall this is a presentation which did little to change my view of Mei Ah.

SOUND
7/10

The differences between the two Cantonese soundtracks available are subtle, and so I decided to give a breakdown of each:

Cantonese 5.1

This soundtrack is very well mixed, with numerous directional effects making their way across the front soundstage.
Rear effects are virtually non-existent, although this is really not a problem as the above-mentioned music sounds superb.
Irritations arise however, when a number of scenes emit an audible hiss, leaving dialogue sounding slightly crackly.

Cantonese 2.1
This being the films original, synch-sound soundtrack, effects are far more naturally placed.
Dialogue, and sfx also sound more solid, with an improved level of bass.
Unfortunately, this track has one flaw - it suffers from lip-synching problems near the movie's end.

Of the two options available, I found the most satisfying to be the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix.


SUBTITLES
7/10

Good grammar and spelling is evident throughout the film, with no scenes being so badly translated as to make them incoherent.
At one point, the subtitles run out-of-step with the film's dialogue but this is only fleeting.

MENUS
3/10

Very basic Mei Ah menus are present, which are no more than serviceable.

EXTRAS
3/10

Typically below-average extras are provided, which include the plot synopsis from the back of the DVD box, a cast and crew listing, and two trailers.

CONCLUSION
7/10

Surprise, surprise, a Mei Ah transfer which fails to set the world of DVD alight.
However, considering the low price and high quality of this massively entertaining film, to pass it up would be a crime against cinema - Buy it now.

MOVIE
9/10
PICTURE
6/10
SOUND
7/10
SUBTITLES
7/10
EXTRAS
3/10
MENUS
3/10
PACKAGING
6/10
OVERALL
7/10