All About Ah-Long (1989) / Drama
MPAA Rated:Not rated, but probably PG-13 for some violence and thematic material
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Sylvia Chang, Kwan Yuen Wong
Director: Johnnie To
Screenplay: Cheng Chung Tai
Review published February 21, 1998
All About Ah-Long is worth a look not only by fans of Chow Yun-Fat (City On Fire, The Flaming Brothers), but also for those interested in the early works of Johnny To (The Heroic Trio, Lifeline) , one of the better directors working in Hong Kong today.
It tells the tale of Ah Long (Yun-Fat), who takes his eleven-year-old son to a competition to be the next child film star. The talent director for the film takes a liking to the boy and he wins. Coincidentally, Ah Long and the boy's mother (Chang, The Red Violin) were once an item 10 years back, but she left him after he beat her mercilessly including throwing her down a flight of steps while pregnant. She was told the child had died upon delivery, but in fact was given up for adoption which Ah Long took responsibility for and subsequently raised after release from prison. Lo and behold, the once though deceased child is the same boy that is the child actor sensation. Ah Long still has feelings for the woman, but the woman bonds with her son and wants him to live with her in her rich lifestyle in the U.S. instead of with the financially struggling Ah Long.
If you want a quick and tidy summation of what the film is about, All About Ah-Long is basically a Hong Kong version of Kramer vs. Kramer, albeit with Asian sensibilities.
As a drama, the film maintains a consistent level of interest, with likeable characters and an intriguing main storyline, even if there appears to be some faulty motivations within the minds of the main protagonists. Of all of these questionable stances, perhaps the most difficult thing to understand is the fact that the mother would contemplate ever returning to a man who has shown such unbelievable brutality to her, and who in one scene beats his young son ruthlessly, even evicting him from his own house.
Some viewers may have difficulty in resolving that both main characters think that beatings are a sign of love, and Ah Long seems to have a lot of love in him to go around. If you can get around such uncomfortable displays in child abuse, and that's a big if, the film is moderately entertaining up until the heavy-handed, overdramatic ending.
©1998 Vince Leo