Hong Kong 1941

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Tribute to Po-Chih Leong

Hong Kong 1941

等待黎明 (Dang doih laih mihng)

Directed by: Po-Chih Leong
Screenplay: John Chan Koon-Chung
Photography (color): Brian Lai
Editing: Peter Cheung
Production Design: Yee Chung-man
Music: Violet Lam
Producer: John Sham Kin-Fun
Cast: Chow Yun-fat (Yip Kim-fei), Alex Lam (Wong Hak-keung), Cecilia Ip Tung (Ha Yuk-nam), Ku Feng (Shiu), Sek Kin (Ha Chung-shan), Paul Chun (cop), Stuart Ong (General Kanezawa), Wu Ma (Mr Liao), Po-Chih Leong (Emperor)

Date of First Release in Territory: November 1st, 1984


The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong is the backdrop for Hong Kong 1941, Po-Chih Leong’s gripping exploration of life in tumultuous times. Leong’s penchant for ambitious filmmaking is on full display in the picture, which helped move Hong Kong cinema in new directions and delivered allegory that packs a punch.
At the heart of the film are three friends, who come together when Yip Kim-fei (Chow Yun-fat) and Wong Hak-keung (Alex Man) find themselves working in the same rice warehouse. Hak-keung has eyes for Ha Yuk-nam (Cecilia Ip Tung), the daughter of the boss (Sek Kin), but she’s being pressured to wed someone else as part of business dealings. Even before Hong Kong’s fall to Japan in December 1941, uncertainty in the city is devolving into chaos. And once the occupation begins, even more nastiness takes root – from the cruelty of the Japanese and their collaborators to the profiteering and setting up of fiefdoms by local elites and thugs. Amid the turmoil, the trio plot to escape together to foreign shores, but reaching that point will involve tests of quick thinking and survival.
Po-Chih Leong stepped up to shoot Hong Kong 1941 after opening his film career with a hugely diverse series of pictures, from the thrillers Jumping Ash (1976) and Foxbat (1977) to the spunky youth drama No Big Deal (1980) and a giallo-comedy hybrid in He Lives by Night (1982). Clearly unafraid to experiment and blend genres, and working with a script by acclaimed writer John Chan Koon-Chung, Leong went against the grain with a daring proposition from the newly formed D&B production company. 
Made while comedies ruled the local box office, Hong Kong 1941 turned in altogether bolder stuff: intensely physical performances from its three leads, including a magnetic, career-turnaround role by Chow Yun-fat; great shifts in tone, with the plot capable of leaping from celebration and romance to brutality; an unpredictable structure that dumped mainstream formulas; and off-kilter interjections by the director himself, playing a calligraphy-draped figure on the streets. While the occupying forces, personified by a rigid general (Stuart Ong), are obviously shown in a bad light, Hong Kong 1941 also targets sycophants and those taking advantage of unstable times. A scene with Yuk-nam’s father grovelling to his new overlord is quietly scathing, while a lawless enclave has an opera singer turned gang boss (Wu Ma) cleaning the desperate out of their money and getting his jollies from torture. Conversely, the resolve of regular citizens clinging onto resistance and slipping into survival mode makes for striking viewing. 
It’s not hard to detect allegory running through Hong Kong 1941, especially given the film’s release during another historic period. The first sign arrives in the opening credits, when a radio newsreader repeats a British government assurance of continued support for Hong Kong amid the Japanese army’s advance. Leong’s picture hit cinemas just before the 1984 signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which set out the 1997 return of Hong Kong to China and the city’s post-handover system of governance. Most citizens of the colony could only look on as the British and Chinese governments negotiated over the city’s future, and the helplessness, fears and fatalism of the situation onscreen could connect with contemporary moods. Other filmmakers before and since have taken up the challenge of depicting life in wartime Hong Kong, but precious few have explored the horrors and personal experiences of the moment with such relatability, nuance and power.


1976 – Jumping Ash
1977 – Foxbat
1979 – Itchy Fingers 
1982 – He Lives by Night
1984 – Banana Cop
1984 – Hong Kong 1941 
1985 – The Island
1986 – Ping Pong
1988 – Keep on Dancing
1998 – Wisdom of Crocodiles 
2000 – Cabin by the Lake 
2006 – The Detonator
2013 – Baby Blues 
2016 – Bounty Hunters
2017 – The Jade Pendant

Tim Youngs
Film director: Po-Chih LEONG
Year: 1984
Running time: 101'
Country: Hong Kong
22/04 - 02:00 PM
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
22-04-2023 14:00 22-04-2023 15:41Europe/Rome Hong Kong 1941 Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine cec@cecudine.org