Hong Kong 1941 (1984)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-09-11
Summary: The Hong Kong
December, 1941 means one thing in the United States—the destruction of much of the Pacific Fleet by the Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into the war that had already engulfed Europe and Asia. It was another matter entirely in Hong Kong and Singapore, British colonies much too far from England to be defended. It was the beginning of a cruel occupation by an implacable enemy and forcible integration into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which meant, among other things, being a forced labor pool.

As in any occupation there were resistors, collaborators and the vast mass of people between them who just tried to get along with their lives. Movies about such unfortunate events generally show more heroes than scoundrels among those occupied and “Hong Kong, 1941” is no exception. Chow Yun Fat, Alex Man and Cecilia Yip are steadfast in their opposition to the Japanese although each for his own reasons. Even Mr. Shin, who starts out as an evil capitalist who tries to hoard rice to drive the price up and wants to cheat coolies of their pay, winds up with a scrap of nobility when he refuses to allow the evil Japanese officer to marry his daughter.

The complete immorality and lack of humanity of the collaborators in underlined by the actions of Sgt. Chun, who becomes no more than an animal driven by hatred and lust and by the former actor in the wheelchair who tortures and kills Chinese patriots for sport—and for the entertainment of Japanese troops.

Excellent performances by the three leads. Chow Yun Fat is terrific as the fixer who ostensibly becomes part of the Japanese war machine so that he can spy for the resistance and help his friends. Cecilia Yip is a striking looking woman and was very well directed by Leung Po Chi. She was usually in the background of scenes or, in the scenes that centered around her, had broad, intense emotions to portray, much easier than the subtleties that are the stock in trade of an experienced actress. This was only her third film. Alex Man was all rough edges, a tough guy who was adrift in the new reality of the occupation.

Cecilia Yip’s character, Ha Nam, gave the movie its structure. She was a framing device, looking back at the events depicted and occasionally narrating them. Like many war movies most notably “Casablanca” and “From Here to Eternity”, “Hong Kong 1941” tells a layered story of individuals against a backdrop of world shaking events. It shows the three friends who are stuck in the city, the victorious Japanese, running not only Hong Kong but most of East Asia and the Pacific, and the destruction of the very fabric of society among the Chinese inhabitants. That they were able to hold together and mount a resistance (as least as shown here) is represented as the triumph of the noble Chinese refusing to give in to their conquerors.

Reviewer Score: 7