Always On My Mind (1993)

Directed by: Jacob Cheung
Written by: James Yuen
Producer: Claudia Chung
Starring: Michael Hui, Josephine Siao, John Tang, Cherie Chan, Joh Si Pooi, Rain Lau & Simon Loui

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1994:
Best Picture
Best Screenplay (James Yuen)
Best Actress (Josephine Siao)

Newscaster Chang (Michael Hui) receives the word that he's got terminal cancer and 3 months left to live. Already living in a household where the relationships are unstable, he can't come to terms with the hard facts or tell the truth to his loved ones but an idea crops up that conveniently forces him to lie about having a disease. After a heroic effort in apprehending a criminal that is also captured on tape, despite the police taking credit, Chang disproves them and goes on a career path as the honest newsman with cancer. Ratings are up, heads are pleased with the publicity and since everyone, including the wife Yin (Josephine Siao) and family thinks everything is all right, they play along. At the end of the 3 months, Chang is approaching the time when he can't lie to himself anymore...

While the successful comedy era with Michael Hui and his brothers Ricky and Sam had passed, neither member had strayed away from the booming Hong Kong movie industry. Michael had continue to direct (1*) and may have presented Always On My Mind but acclaimed social drama director Jacob Cheung (2*) was instead brought in to helm this decidedly Michael Hui esque tale. Bringing an added sensitivity that kind of makes it the other C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri of 1993. Not that it's a bad thing. Far from it, the film can proudly share gem status with Derek Yee's drama.

Produced at UFO, drama-comedy is the recipe here because you obviously don't want to stray too far away from Michael Hui's established screen persona. But despite the social satire about greed, Hui and company presents us with something radically different yet not surprising at all in its effectiveness, a funny tear jerker with that supreme touch that usually gets Hong Kong dramas much farther in the scheme of things. Credit begins at the script stage and James Yuen (3*) may have provided a template that is rife with clichés but we know he's accomplished enough to put character touches in there that makes the melodrama come deserved. It's a family dynamic as its starting point. A dynamic where members are coming of age, parents can't keep up or track of their kids because they've neglected them, if only ever so slightly. The son has so many potential girlfriends, Chang and Yin have trouble keeping them apart, the youngest daughter keeps speculating about where babies come from, without much aid and the oldest daughter is on the rebel path, wanting to marry a struggling musician. Scenarios begin taking on a comedic tone through the very out of touch parents, leading to one highlight where they have vital life discussions with the son and the daughter tag-team style.

Comedy and drama can have a hard time sitting next to each other but with James Yuen's script, director Jacob Cheung has a blueprint where the comedy suits the detached parental unit. Yin has strange blackouts and Chang struggles to come to terms with his incurable disease results in a defensive stance that does scream Michael Hui-esque comedy. But Jacob doesn't stray, he knows that he can be outrageous and still have Michael Hui be rooted in dramatic reality as character. And by also staying largely away from the action in his technical direction, Always On My Mind becomes the kind of immersing, funny and touching ride that Hong kong filmmakers do at the best of times.

Jacob is one of those best, something his resume proves and he puts equal effort into what is really a Michael Hui trademark; the portrayal of the working man with that great, big slice of social satire. As Chang and Yin gladly uses the publicity driven media to their financial advantage, we're in territory Hui is so adept at performing and executing, without being cloying. The media image still stands true today and the filmmakers bravely challenges it without neglecting any need to move forward. Obviously this advantage the couple has during the 3 months Chang is "faking" his cancer will lead to tragedy and heartache.

Highly touching and ending on an appropriate note has much to do with director Cheung getting Hui and also Josephine Siao to commit fully, with nigh on perfect results. Hui, who even in The Private Eyes had dramatic, telling moments, skillfully embodies the denying man whose defense is lightheartedness but it's when those real moments come upon him that Hui finds a place inside of him that is incredibly heartfelt. And it's not surprising or a stretch at all, that's the reassuring thing. Watch out for a cameo by Jacob Cheung as himself and fans of Josephine Siao and Sam Hui will appreciate the sly references to their past work.

Clever, funny and an effort that will give your tear canals a workout, Jacob Cheung and Michael Hui will gladly have you commit to the human journey of a man faced with a shortened life and the realization that his loved ones now will go away forever. The sentiments as surely interpreted by you the readers are familiar but the team delivers expectedly, ranging from Michael Hui's comedy/drama act to Jacob Cheung's reserved direction. It may have somehow got lost in the shuffle under C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri but now in remastered form, Always On My Mind deservedly should be recognized as the masterful gem it is.

The DVD:

Hui's Film Production Co. Ltd began supplying masters of the back catalogue of Michael Hui films to distributor Y2K but the releases of Chicken And Duck Talk and Front Page were weak to say the least (the Japanese dvd release of the former is not of the best quality either so it still seems the material at Hui's disposal is uneven). Things improve greatly for this title at least as Asia Video Publishing becomes the next player. Always On My Mind benefits from a fine remaster, presented in 1.78:1 framed anamorphic widescreen. Some grain, darkness and wear is evident throughout but aspects such as colours, blacks and sharpness rank well above average for a slightly older production.

The synch sound Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks features no obvious problems. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

The optional English subtitles got some minor spelling errors but are of high standard otherwise. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available. No extras are however but it's a fine release where the basics are presented as they should.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Last to date being The Magic Touch from 1992.

(2) Credits include Cageman, Beyond The Sunset and Midnight Fly.

(3) Prolific screenwriter but uneven director. His more notable efforts are Clean My Name, Mr Coroner! and Crazy N' The City. Both featuring Francis Ng. See a pattern?