Taking Manhattan (1992)
Directed by: Kirk Wong
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In the whole scheme of things, it's safe to say Hong Kong filmmakers have taken their act on the road a number of times. You have the obvious field trip in the form of Bruce Lee's Way Of The Dragon but others include Ng See-Yuen's Kidnap In Rome, Mabel Cheung's classic New York-set romance An Autumn's Tale, Ringo Lam's attempt at greater international status via Undeclared War and in 1992, Kirk Wong (Organized Crime & Triad Bureau) lensed Taking Manhattan in The Big Apple, with a mixed Hong Kong and international "talent" (1*). I say mixed because most often in mentioned productions, the hired Westerners, be it in extras or dialogue parts, are regular Joe's plucked from the street or talent less anyway. At least when appearing in movies shot IN Hong Kong (2*). Look through the Taking Manhattan cast list and at best you'll find some US TV appearances of Western personnel involved so we're not talking co-production status akin to the new millennium that has seen the likes of David Morse (Double Vision), Donald Sutherland (Big Shot's Funeral) and Michael Biehn (Dragon Squad) take trips to Asian film sets.
At this point, Kirk Wong had notable cinema behind him such as Health Warning, the Tsui Hark produced Gunmen and coming into Taking Manhattan, knowing Hong Kong filmmakers and writers, it's not that clear cut whether or not they were opting for a bankable international film or actually having a focus on what market they could cater to. In the end, Kirk Wong delivers a B-picture that occasionally delivers tasty content. A must when you're dealing with such insipid storytelling. There's your answer as to what the production was going for.
New York city cop Chung (Lui Chi-Yin) is nearly killed in a bombing that takes out three of his fellow officers and he is left without a job. At the same time his wife (Carrie Ng) is not coping well with the move from Hong Kong to America. They're further divided when he reluctantly accepts an undercover assignment, headed by his female superior Helen (Alena Adena). Plan is to make friends with drug dealer Chen (Andrew Chan), a high aspiring gangster who takes Chung under his wing. Spiral of lies and death lies ahead...
It should be pointed out that the film to this day has not been made available on home video as Kirk Wong and company intended. Not talking about the length of the film but originally a synch sound Cantonese/English soundtrack was produced but expectedly dubbed in Cantonese and Mandarin when released in Asian territories where that applies. Asian video versions that followed (including the Deltamac dvd) only contained this full dubs in either Chinese dialects sadly though. That might reduce the hokey factor in the way we're spared the surely poor delivery by the Western cast and Hong Kong cinema fans have been used to dub structure for years as a matter of fact. Still, this time it wasn't the intent and therefore it's a bit of a shame we're left with no other options.
Anyway, Kirk loads the film with basic ingredients as platforms for violence and action which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It doesn't flatter the film either though, the content including marriage breakdown, rather stereotypical staging of New York City and maniacal bad guys hell bent on taking over EEEEEEEEVERYTHING while also spouting political motives in an attempt to put forth layers to madness. You're right, it doesn't work and only provides a framework for Wong. Signs of that mentioned tastiness that should drive the film finally enters through Alena Adena's character, Chung's bomb shell boss and certainly the viewing begins entering semi-pleasurable as she engages in some gratuitous nudity as well.
Boredom can quickly enter however and thankfully it's not long until Kirk, working with action-director Dang Tak-Wing (3*) starts to deliver gritty violence for the gritty setting. It works in favour of the film despite not being fights or gunplay of the masterful kind. But Wong has always worked well with choreographers to deliver power, energy and brings that to various set pieces in this film as well. Best being the finale on the streets going into the subway and some welcome gory deaths accompanies the action-directing as well. He's also fortunate to work with cinematographer Walter Gregg (4*) who sees the limitations he has to work and instead goes to show that you can be active with the camera on a low budget while still creating fair excitement.
Name talent in terms of acting, which there is quite little off, is of course Carrie Ng. No doubt a fine actress as displayed both early in City On Fire and later winning an award for her performance in Jacob Cheung's The Kid, the plain Carrie of 1990 isn't exactly the prime cinema queen of Hong Kong nor is there much to work with in order to deliver a performance. Fans will be able to see her transformation into the more famed glamorous version later on in the film but that's about it really. Overacting or non-existent acting otherwise dominates amongst the cast which is a little pleasure in itself because everyone should be well aware early of any goals set by Kirk Wong with this film.
What are those goals then? After a not so long hard think, I do believe the Hong Kong crew wanted to cater to a very profitable market, albeit the B-action market when going international this time with the Hong Kong flavour. The end result is certainly driven to fair extent by that but at other times, Taking Manhattan is rather embarrassing in a hokey, pleasing way. This film may be one of the more obscure ones in Wong's filmography for a reason but he's not totally alienating his audience whenever he lays his eyes on violence. Therefore, this New York tale is bearable but not essential.
Deltamac presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 approximately. Mostly free of wear and great sharpness, large amount of the film is pale but colours still are fairly well presented.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track is as mentioned a full dub rather than the original, rare synch sound Cantonese/English track that was originally intended for the film. Aside from poor dubbing of most of the Westerners therefore, the audio is clear. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
Many spelling and grammar errors resides in the English subtitles but it's for a film that doesn't rely on the greatest of substance to come through in the translation. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles can also be selected. Only extra is the trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(2) Undeclared War had some name talent though, including Olivia Hussey who appeared in the Stephen King mini-series It.
(3) Action-directing credits includes Handsome Siblings as well as collaborations with Jackie Chan on Police Story III: Supercop and Drunken Master II.
(4) Only other cinematography credits on Hong Kong productions are Shanghai 1920 for Leung Po-Chi and Once Upon A Time In China And America.