A/B side VIBES. Greatest Hits from ‘80s & ‘90s
A Moment of Romance
天若有情 (Tin Yeuk Yau Ching)
Hong Kong, 1990, 91’, Cantonese
Directed by: Benny Chan
Screenplay: James Yuen
Photography (color): Joe Chan, Horace Wong
Editing: Wong Ming-kong
Art Direction: Ringo Cheung
Music: Fabio Carli, Lo Ta-yu
Action: Yuen Bun
Producer: Johnnie To
Production Companies: Movie Impact Ltd., Paka Hill Film Production Co.
Cast: Andy Lau (Wah Dee), Wu Chien-lien (Jojo), Ng Man-tat (Rambo), Tommy Wong (Trumpet), Leung San (Jojo’s mother), Chu Tit-wo (Brother Seven), Lau Kong (Inspector Kong)
Date of First Release in Territory: June 14th, 1990
A stylish Romeo and Juliet story set in the gritty Hong Kong underworld, A Moment of Romance (1990) has achieved undeniable classic status and continues to endure more than 30 years after its release. Much of that legacy rests on star Andy Lau, who rocketed to superstardom for his portrayal of street gangster Wah Dee, a prototypical bad boy with a heart of gold whose criminal profession is offset by his affection for innocent teen Jojo (Wu Chien-lien). With his rebellious stare and floppy popstar hair, Wah Dee astride his flashy racing motorcycle became every young Hong Kong girl’s desired Prince Charming. While American girls worshiped posters of Tom Cruise in a flight jacket, Hong Kong girls had Andy Lau in denim plastered on their walls.
Accidentally dragging her into a robbery getaway, Wah Dee shields Jojo from irredeemable gangster Trumpet (blunt-faced Tommy Wong), who wants her snuffed lest she ID the whole gang. One thing leads to another, meaning the two youths from opposite sides of the track find love while the antagonists (the police, the triads, Jojo’s mom) work to stop them. Love must be denied because reality demands it. Jojo is a wealthy good girl with a bright future in Canada, while Wah Dee is destined for prison or a bloody end in some gutter. Wah Dee and Jojo may yearn for one another but society and the audience know better: These two cannot end up together. These are familiar stakes and tropes, and A Moment of Romance embraces them fully.
How A Moment of Romance succeeded is debatable; that it did succeed is not. The film was a massive hit across Asia, earning followings in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and more. With her innocent beauty and remarkable expressiveness, Wu Chien-lien became a major Chinese star, while Andy Lau became, well, Wah Dee. Despite a stellar career amassing blockbuster hits and awards nods, Lau will always be Wah Dee to his most loyal fans. The film, its imagery, and the character of Wah Dee went on to be homaged and parodied in other Hong Kong movies and media. Many of these references also featured Andy Lau, including the most famous parody in Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai’s romantic comedy Needing You… (2000), in which an office executive has his love life rescued by a motorcycle-riding savior who laments his own lost love. Naturally, Lau played both roles.
Johnnie To served as producer of A Moment of Romance, and the film seems to echo To’s style and signifiers more than those of director Benny Chan. The late Chan is more well known for his kinetic action spectacles like Gen-X Cops (2000) and Raging Fire (2021), and his knack for action-as-character beats can be seen in A Moment of Romance. Producer To can be found in the film’s romantic style, which hews to Hong Kong cinema’s “Heroic Bloodshed” trend, while the slim narrative and spare exposition are more representative of later Johnnie To. The lack of expository dialogue, and the weight given to performance and action, actually helps audiences to better immerse themselves in the tragic drama.
However, the film offers more than escapism. The situations in A Moment of Romance resonate deeply for Hong Kongers, past and present. As in many Hong Kong films leading to the 1997 handover, Wah Dee and Jojo’s conflicts echo local anxiety. Jojo can and must leave, while Wah Dee can’t and expects to die in Hong Kong, and both realize their love to be a temporary reprieve in an indifferent world. This is their shining moment, their rage against the dying of the light. Wah Dee and Jojo will lose to a monolithic future that they cannot hope to affect. The beauty of A Moment of Romance is how much it makes us wish that they won’t.
Benny Chan joined Hong Kong’s TV industry in 1981. While staying active in TV, he entered the film industry in 1987, working on films like Po-Chih Leong’s Fatal Love (1988) before directing his first movie A Moment of Romance (1990). Chan went on to build a strong reputation as a director and producer in the action genre with films like Heroic Duo (2003), New Police Story (2004), Divergence (2005), Invisible Target (2007), Connected (2008) and The White Storm (2013). In 2020 Chan died while his final film, the thriller Raging Fire (2021), was in post-production.
1990 – A Moment of Romance
1996 – Big Bullet
1998 – Who Am I?
2003 – Heroic Duo
2004 – New Police Story
2005 – Divergence
2007 – Invisible Target
2008 – Connected
2013 – The White Storm
2021 – Raging Fire