Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Action/ Suspense/ Romance/ Martial Arts
Director: Casey Chan
WORTH A LOOK
Sometimes old favorites lose their luster. Watching The Black Morning Glory in 2011, almost 20 years after it was filmed, it doesn’t work on a realistic level at all.
Ting (the breathtakingly gorgeous Michelle Reis) grew up in an isolated village in the New Territories, playing with her best friends Lin (also played by Reis) and Michael (Lau Sek-Ming), until one day tragedy intervened. Her mother was raped and killed and she herself was sold to a Japanese syndicate, who trained her to be an assassin.
One day Ting is given an assignment. She kills with her usual efficiency but discovers that her target was her childhood friend Lin. Why Lin? Lin produced fashion shows with her partner Ken (an oily Lester Chan), but found out he was involved in an international counterfeiting ring. Lin refuses to give him back a digital copy of the front half of a United State $100 bill, so Ken contacts the Japanese gang, who in turn hire Ting to kill Lin and recover the disk.
When Ting finds out who she has killed, she is sorry, but at the same time she sees an opportunity to escape from what her life has become. When they were kids, Michael was especially protective of Lin. Ting assumes Lin’s identity and returns to her childhood home, hoping she can win Michael’s heart.
But Michael’s friend Officer Tso Wing (Waise Lee) is investigating the counterfeiting case and of course, Ken won’t stop until he finds the disk. If he doesn’t, he’ll be killed by the other members of the gang.
In summary, that doesn’t seem any more absurd than any number of other Hong Kong flicks, but the difference is how the premise is handled by screenwriters Cheung Lai-Ling and Woo Suet-Lai and directed by Casey Chan. The film is much more confusing than how I’ve made it sound, on a number of levels.
When Ting kills Lin, she doesn’t find the disk. Why not? I don’t remember Lin hiding it or if she did, this crucial detail wasn’t given enough visual heft to allow the audience to remember it. Director Casey Chan opts for a dreamy, poetic, fairy tale atmosphere, which is fine, but if he was going to go that route, he needed to make all of the plot elements transparent.
Then there’s Ting’s character. From the idyllic childhood flashbacks, my initial understanding is that she wanted to return to her innocent past, since her present is so unbearable. That would actually be more resonant than what the screenwriters have come up with, Ting wanting to replace Lin so she can be cared for by Michael. That makes Ting seem monstrous, which is obviously not the intention of the filmmakers. The only reason that theme works as well as it does is because Michelle Reis is so inherently sympathetic as an actress.
Finally, when Ting reveals to Michael that she killed Lin, not only does he forgive her, but he then makes love to her saying “I love the one who is in front of me.” Now, not only would that not happen, but if it did happen, Michael would have to be a first class dick.
So, as written, Ting is a monster and Michael is a dick. The fairy tale atmosphere smooths these character miscalculations over somewhat, but not completely.
How about the action? Most folks who love Hong Kong thrillers watch them largely for action and stunts. Well, Cho Wing’s martial arts choreography is pretty middle of the road, at least as performed by the actors. It’s okay, but nothing crazy. And there are almost no stunts.
Finally, the ending, which I remember liking when I first saw it, is telegraphed at least 30 seconds beforehand. Maybe I found it suspenseful back then.
One more problem, which isn’t the fault of the filmmakers. From what I can tell, the cinematography is just fine, but the only available print is from a poor videotape transfer, so the colors are all washed out and the white subtitles are illegible 75% of the time.
In summary, you could skip The Black Morning Glory and not miss anything profound. On the other hand, if you are fans of the actors, and you don’t mind a dreamy atmosphere instead of the usual crackling Hong Kong energy, you could do worse, too.
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