All About Ah Long (1989) Movie Review

“All About Ah Long” is another Hong Kong classic which has been given the digital remaster treatment by Joy Sales on DVD. The film was originally released back in 1990, when it was hugely popular with audiences and critics alike, winning the Best Actor prize for a young Chow Yun Fat at the Hong Kong Film Awards. The film marks a rather different effort from director Johnny To, which sees him tackling heartfelt family drama rather than the explosive action and triad thrillers (“Election”, “PTU”) for which he would later become known.

At the heart of the film is the relationship between the titular Ah Long (Chow Yun Fat) and his young son Porky (Huang Kun Husen), who lives together in Ah Long’s rather squalid apartment. Ah Long works on a construction site, having given up motorbike racing after crashing and injuring his leg. However, the job doesn’t bring in much money, and so one day he sends Porky to audition for a role in a commercial, little knowing that the director is in fact Sylvia (actress Sylvia Chang, who also wrote the film’s script and starred in many other Hong Kong classics, such as the “Aces Go Places” series, and who directed the likes of “20 30 40” and “Princess D”), his estranged girlfriend who he has not seen for ten years since he was sent to jail and she went to the U.S. with her mother. Unbeknownst to Sylvia, Porky is in fact her son, whom she was told died at birth, and she finds herself having to come to terms not only with him, but with Ah Long, especially in the light of her impending return to the U.S.

To’s direction is tight, and despite the fact that the film covers a lot of emotional ground and character development, “All About Ah Long” progresses convincingly and smoothly. Similarly, although the central conceit, of a woman seemingly unaware that she has a son, may seem somewhat far-fetched, it is dealt with in a believable manner and without dwelling pointlessly on who is to blame for the deception. Indeed, the film as a whole enjoys an air of realism, and as a result it is far more than either a melodramatic custody struggle or a simple tale of man’s quest for redemption. The film is frequently amusing, though not intrusively so, and this light hearted approach works very well, helping both to endear the characters to the viewer and to make the proceedings engaging in a wonderfully entertaining fashion.

The main characters are all well drawn and given an uncommon level of depth, and To does not shy away from showing their faults as well as merits, especially, and crucially in the case of Ah Long, who is shown in flashbacks to have been a genuinely nasty piece of work. As a result, the viewer genuinely cares for him, Sylvia and young Porky, and the film shows a heartfelt sense of honesty throughout which is impossible not to be moved by. Although the plot does become somewhat predictable in its later stages, by this time the viewer has been drawn into the story and the fates of the characters to such an extent that this is barely noticeable, and does not detract at all from its considerable impact.

The film is anchored by a marvelous performance from Chow Yun Fat, with his role here being completely different than his usual suave charmers, though he does have a few opportunities to flash his trademark charismatic grin. The actor shows his great versatility, and the film serves as en excellent reminder that he is capable of far more than simply playing immaculately dressed killers. Young Huang Kun Husen is similarly impressive as Porky, in a role which won him the Best Supporting Actor award at the 34th Asian Pacific Film Festival. As is Sylvia Chang as the torn Sylvia, her moving turn ensuring that the viewer never sides wholly with Ah Long, and for which she won a Best Actress nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

“All About Ah Long” is firmly rooted in the eighties, from the bouncy synth music to Chow Yun Fat’s wild bouffant, which resembles that of Jackie Chan in “Drunken Master” (it should be noted that his is by no means the most ridiculous coif on show, with that honour going to Sylvia’s assistant Peter, who sports a bizarre female mullet). This gives the film a pleasantly nostalgic feel, though without being heavy handed, as well as adding a sense of time and place and again helps to ground its characters, further underlining the basic humanity which drives the story. It is this which truly captivates the viewer, and which makes the film an entertaining and moving classic which should be enjoyed by all viewers.

Johnnie To (director) / Sylvia Chang, Yun-Fat Chow, Man Fai Ng (screenplay)
CAST: Yun-Fat Chow …. Ah-Long Yeung
Sylvia Chang …. Sylvia Poon
Man Tat Ng …. Dragon Ng
Kwan Yuen Wong …. Porky Yeung

Buy All About Ah Long on DVD