Ever wondered what the heck is going on in the beginning of Mei Ah’s DVD of Johnny Mak Dong Hung’s 1984 crime classic “Long Arm of the Law” because there are no English subtitles? This article is a small supplement that will hopefully bring some relief.
If you are looking for reviews, here are three good ones: Kenneth Brorsson’s review makes some very good observations about the production. This indignant review gives us one valid Hong Kong perspective and Love HKFilm’s review is short and sweet.
There aren’t a whole lot of missing subtitles in the Mei Ah version; it’s really just that the opening scene is not subbed. The film opens at a train station with two station signs in Chinese with no subtitles. Then the main character, Daai Dong, smokes on a train while a bunch of unsubtitled green “computer” characters bleepity blip across the screen. Mei Ah may have figured we don’t want to know what this says but they’re wrong.
And we’re right to want to know because it all turns out to be rather important information. Knowledge is power, so let’s read some Chinese.
1. just so you know, the title of the film is 省港奇兵 which pretty much means “sudden military attack on Hong Kong”. A fair translation might be “Invasion of Hong Kong”.
2. In the opening scene, we see the the bilingual sign of Kowloon Train Station. We then see a sign that says
Ho Yao Dong, nickname “Big Dong”
32 years old.
During the Cultural Revolution, Ho is a commander at the
Southern Guangdong military HQ.
February 1979: Illegally enters Hong Kong.
A. Caught carrying a concealed weapon – court rules insufficient evidence.
B: Illegal caching of ammunition and firearms – court rules insufficient evidence.
C: Assault and battery – court held without the presence of the accused – charges dropped.
Put on the “Wanted List” for robbing army provisions and intent to kill.
Police issue an official warrant for Ho Yao Dong as one of the “10 Most Wanted” in Hong Kong Territory.
And there you have the missing subtitles. I think they’re pretty important.
In these first two minutes of the film we learn that Daai Dong is traveling by train from Hong Kong to the Mainland. We see his criminal record, which sets up some important background context for the story: that is, the real-life appearance in 1970’s-80’s Hong Kong of a group of scary ass Mainland criminals called the Big Circle Boys. They unleashed their bad ass military camp training on unsuspecting Hong Kong jewelry stores and had more firepower than the police force. This might put the film title “省港奇兵 / “sudden military attack on Hong Kong” into better perspective.
The most famous real-life Big Circle Boy was the celebrated Yip Kai Foon who with a team of five military buddies pulled off a spectacular and violent jewelry store robbery earlier in the same year that “Long Arm of the Law” was released. Yip inspired many Hong Kong crime films but “Long Arm of the Law” is one of the first to really explore the Big Circle presence in Hong Kong.
The film is excellent enough to appreciate without knowing any of this stuff but I think that being able to place Daai Dong in this historical context, and having some understanding of the dread that these crazy ass robbers were causing Hong Kong in 1984, can heighten the intensity of the heavy shit that goes down later in the story. I personally think that this background knowledge makes the film “better”. For me, anyway.
I know that many Hong Kong cinephiles are already well aware of the connection between Daai Dong’s cinema gang and the Big Circle Boys but I hope that subtitles for the opening scene is still useful.
And I hope somebody from Mei Ah is reading this because hey bro, we really do care about ALL the subtitles!
If anybody would like to help me improve my translation, please feel free to shoot me a line.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy “Long Arm of the Law” as much as I do!