“Don’t ever make mistakes, you’ll never get a second chance!” warns the hero of Johnnie To’s melancholy male melodrama, All About Ah-Long (阿郎的故事). Ah-Long is indeed a man who’s made mistakes, mistakes he fears can never be corrected that have removed all possibility of his redemption only to be presented with new hope through a chance encounter and to have that hope eventually smashed by the cruel hand of fate. 

A former motorcycle racer, Ah-Long (Chow Yun-fat) has a job driving a truck at a quarry and lives in a tiny two room apartment sharing a bed with his 10-year-old son, Porky (Huang Kun-Hsuen). A fateful introduction from an old friend, Dragon (Ng Man-tat), accidentally reunites him with former girlfriend Por Por (Sylvia Chang), now calling herself Sylvia having become a successful ad executive after moving to the US following the couple’s acrimonious breakup while Ah-Long, badly injured in a motorcycle crash, ended up spending some time in prison. Sylvia’s class conscious mother had not approved of the relationship and in fact told her that the baby had died to convince her to move abroad. Discovering that Porky is alive, she begins to want him back planning to take him with her when she returns the to the US in the company of her fiancé Patrick (Alan Yu Ka-Lun). 

The situation may be somewhat reminiscent of the then recent Kramer vs Kramer but the parameters of the dilemma are different. Sylvia did not wilfully abandon her child nor is she being asked to choose between motherhood and personal fulfilment though as we later discover the traumatic circumstances of Porky’s birth have left her unable to bear any more children meaning that Porky is the only possibility of her reclaiming her maternity. Her request is in its own way selfish, considering her own feelings over Porky’s in suggesting they remove him from his home and everything he’s known while disrupting the clearly very close relationship between Ah-Long and his son. There is also something uncomfortable in the mediation of her love as she showers Porky with expensive gifts Ah-Long could never hope to provide, almost as if she were trying to buy him or at least tempt him away from wholesome working class Hong Kong towards consumerist paradise in the US hinting at the new international possibilities of a future outside of the post-Handover nation. Emptying his bank account, Ah-Long buys the puppy in a pet store window that Porky had doted on, but the boy barely reacts too busy playing with the new desktop computer Sylvia has set up for him in addition to tidying the apartment and making soup while Ah-Long was out. 

Through flashback we realise that Ah-Long was womanising bad boy, drunk and abusive, but has apparently seen the error of his ways humbled by his accident and matured by fatherhood now apparently reformed and dedicated solely to Porky’s upbringing. All he wants for him is a comfortable life and he knows that Sylvia can give that to him even if it means leaving Ah-Long behind alone in Hong Kong. While Sylvia’s fiancé Patrick claims not to care about her past but becomes increasingly controlling and paranoid, unwilling to accept Porky and insistent that they adopt a child of their own while resentful of her relationship with Ah-Long, Ah-Long continues to dream of a traditional family reunion with Porky showing the former lovers how to walk together during a parents’ three-legged race at the school sports day. 

Yet there is always a degree of distance between the one-time couple. To opens the film with the camera looking up at a pair of high rise buildings as it sinks to street level and then rises finding first Ah-Long’s moped and then the tiny apartment he shares with Porky. The camera pulls up again to catch the name of the swanky hotel where Sylvia is staying, a captivated Porky mystified by the elegant glass elevators rising inside, while Sylvia can hardly bear the literal rollercoaster ride at a local theme park the implication being that she can no longer bear the ups and downs of a life like Ah-Long’s while Porky may not be able to ascend to her life of middle-class stability. The promise of a life of comfort threatens to break the bond between father and son, the question becoming whether it is selfish of Ah-Long to prioritise their emotional bond in a life of wholesome poverty rather than sacrifice himself in allowing Sylvia to take Porky with her back to affluent if emotionally empty America. 

Even so, it begins to seem as if the pair may reach a form of equilibrium that places them on a similar level as Sylvia rejects the overbearing Patrick and leaves a door open for the reunion of the traditional family with a reformed Ah-Long who has learned the error of his ways and done his best to make amends. In true To fashion, however, fate has other ideas. Ah-Long sees his longed for dream in front of him and rides fast towards it only to be denied as if the universe had suddenly refused to grant him his redemption. The bleak conclusion perhaps implies that there really are no second chances for men like Ah-Long no matter how much they want them, while the peculiar contradictions of pre-Handover Hong Kong preclude such ordinary visions of happiness as could be found in familial reunification. 

Trailer (no subtitles)

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