A Moment of Romance

Reviewed by YTSL

What would be the given odds, I wonder, of a movie for which Ringo Lam, Wong Jing and Johnnie To are credited producers of some kind or other being a serious romantic drama, even if it's one that does involve some triad action?  This especially when one realizes that the Director Guild's film in mind is helmed by Benny Chan (whose best-known work is probably that entitled "Big Bullet").  Yet that is precisely what the 1990 offering whose Chinese title translates as "If Heaven Has Love" turned out to successfully be -- so much so, in fact, that it spawned two in-name-only "sequels" which also boast appearances by this offering's female lead.

A MOMENT OF ROMANCE starts off in earnest with the meeting of a rich girl and a man who comes from the wrong side of town by way of his taking her hostage to aid in his escaping from the clutches of the police after the robbing of a jewelry business.  At first, I greeted with skepticism the plot development which involved the admittedly naive-looking as well as skittish-acting lass becoming enamored with the rough diamond who not only decided to spare her life (against the orders of other gang members) but actually went out of his way to ensure her safe return to her very nice looking home.  However, the revelation a little later on that Wu Chien-Lien's hitherto lonesome character was but seventeen years old actually did explain and help a great deal (as did the acting of the actress who was very impressively making her movie debut here).  So did the persuasive portrayal of a honorable and complex triad man by Andy Lau; along with amusing and illuminating expository scenes featuring Jo Jo and Wah Dee (the character names assigned to those played by Wu and Lau respectively) that allowed the audience to see the gradual development of the attraction between the two very different individuals (N.B.  I particularly liked those which took place in a cheap rented room early in their relationship).

Seemingly inevitably, A MOMENT OF ROMANCE's heartrending love story gets complicated by triad politics of the kind that culminates in chopper-waving chases and knife-wielding fights.  Some time is also devoted to detailing the male protagonist's friendship with a lower-level individual which is somewhat reminiscent of that between the characters played by Andy Lau and Jackie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's "As Tears Go By" (which came out two years before -- and IMHO is bettered by -- Benny Chan's directorial debut).  Somewhat surprisingly though, I thought that the gangland interactions actually endowed the proceedings with the kind of tension that rivets rather than irritates, and found that while Ng Man Tat was once more essaying a gibbering character, this one -- whose portrayal won him a Best Supporting Actor honor at the Hong Kong Film Awards -- actually felt three-dimensional and thereby increased the film's already high humanity quotient.
IMHO, this stylistic rough and emotionally raw work is an extremely well made work in so many ways.  To be sure, its basic "opposites attract" story would win no prizes for originality, and could even be pretty accurately described as downright generic.  However, this effort manages to qualitatively rise above other similarly themed offerings (including "The Adventurers"; the 1995 Ringo Lam effort which had Andy Lau once more playing a character who takes Wu Chien-Lien's hostage, then falls in love with her) by way of the care taken in doing such as:  Detailing -- while also personalizing -- the main duo's different backgrounds and social milieu (the inclusion of scenes with their poles-apart-in-style-and-attitude parental figures was a particularly fine touch) as well as feelings for each other; and weaving together different aspects of the film so that the (re)viewer feels at the end of A MOMENT OF ROMANCE that all loose ends have actually been accounted for and tied up.
Spoiler alert:  This is not to say though that I do not have any regrets about the way the story got resolved.  While I won't go into any details, I will issue the warning that one should NEVER -- unless one has a heart of steel; in which case, why bother to watch these movies at all?! -- ever consider a double feature involving A MOMENT OF ROMANCE and Tsui Hark's "The Lovers" (Forget about weeping buckets.  I felt suicidal for a while there!).  Still, I guess it can be said to be a tribute to the (people involved in this) production that over the course of a scant ninety minutes or so, they actually got usually unrepentantly unromantic me to care so much for the two protagonists and "feel free to be naive again" (as the movie's lovers were -- and the audience is -- urged to momentarily be).

My rating for the film:  8.5