Compared are the International Theatrical Version and the Director's Cut (both available on the French DVD by on HK Video)
54 differences, including
* 20x alternate footage
* 18x additional footage in the Theatrical Version
* 8 audio track differences
* 4 recuts
Length difference: 246.7 sec (= 4:07 min)
* Additional Footage Theatrical Version: 785,7 sec (= 13:06 min)
* Additional Footage Director's Cut: 1032,4 sec (= 17:12 min)
This drama from 1980 was the third film Tsui Hark directed. Until today, it is considered a milestone of his career. The film is highly recommended, not only for Hong Kong fans. Given the controversial topic, it would be even harder to realize nowadays. Virtuosically directed and with top-notch acting (except for the American supporting actors, as often in Asian flicks) - it still gets under your skin.
Even for its theatrical release in Hong Kong, there were problems because the local rating board rejecting the original version. According to the book "Hongkong New Wave Cinema" for three main reasons:
1. Potential copycats regarding the scene that puts everything in motion during which three students detonate a bomb in a movie theater.
2. The young age of the protagonists was an issue. Had they been college students, the content would have been considered unproblematic.
3. The conflict between former mercenaries from the US and the Chinese was considered to cause xenophobical behavior.
Hence Tsui Hark was forced to submit an edited version, then the film was green-lit. Until today, only that censored Theatrical Version is available worldwide (if anything!), a release in HD has not been announced so far.
Fortunately, a reconstructed Director's Cut was shows on a few film festivals and the French DVD contains (besides the regular Theatrical Version) this very version. Additional scenes stand out by their much worse image quality and hardcoded subtitles. But these are not the only differences. The audio track resp. the dialogs had to be censored as well plus a lot of recuts were made, especially at the beginning.
The Director's Cut
As already mentioned, there are more differences than extended or added scenes. The basic reason for that is the already mentioned required censorship. Only in the Director's Cut, it is obvious from the beginning that the boys detonated the bomb. The Theatrical Version is quite creative though because a completely different incident occurs at the very beginning. As s result, Wan Chu meets the boys and extorts them from that moment on. Going hand in hand with that, the dialogs refering to the bomb during the movie were redubbed while the footage remains identical. Further audio track alterations lower the heat of the story in the Theatrical Version.
It also stands out that there are several additional scenes in the DC that make the cops (especially Shaw Brothers veteran Lo Lieh) look like fools. What could be considered Hong Kong humor at first glance was more of a political issue resp. according to the bonus material of the French DVD, those scenes needed to be removed in order not to damage the image of the police too much. Also censored was the animal snuff scene (Wan Chu torturing mice) resp. there is more footage of that in the Director's Cut.
Since so much footage was removed, a new subplot was added to the Theatrical Version: the John Shum plot. He is a detective and investigates weapon deals of a group of former mercenaries. The reconstructed Director's Cut lacks more than 10 minutes of footage one will probably miss. Admittedly, this subplot did not really fit in resp. it makes the movie look like a common crime flick. But it order to be able to release it, these alterations were required. That way, Tsui Hark was able to put the conflict between Americans and Chinese in a simplied way in the movie and law enforcement handles it more or less conventional.
After removed footage for censorship reasons which is back in in the Director's Cut, there are a few harmless additional scenes. Further shots of people dancing at a club for instance were obviously removed for pace reasons which means they are not really required to be put back in. Seen from this angle, the Director's Cut is much closer to Tsui Hark's original cut but some of the scenes are not meaningful at all.
All in all, the Director's Cut is quite interesting and a release with a consistent high quality would be appreciated. But for the time being, the reconstructed Director's Cut on the French DVD is probably the best way of taking a look at the Director's Cut. One can only hope that international labels will release it with a consistently good quality. Spreading the also very good Theatrical Version would not be too bad either.
Time index refers to
Theatrical Version in PAL / Director's Cut in PAL
00:54 / 00:54-01:05
Before the title, the Director's Cut (=DC) contains an additional text box according to which explosives in article 1 of the law regarding dangerous objects passed in 1956 are categorized to the first category.
Additional Footage Theatrical Version
02:33-05:50 / 02:44
After the last credits, the DC lacks a longer sequence. In other words, the DC instantaneously continues with the doll run over and the woman in the rain.
Pictures of weapons are hung up and different intelligence people discuss for MI-6 mercs smuggling weapons in Nam. A connection to the Red Army is being mentioned but denied. Shortly, a transaction will take place in Hong Kong and it will be surveilled by them. An American is introduced as a rat because his cover was blown recently.
Then the mentioned American in action. Meanwhile, another ex-soldier is guarding the door. He looks mean. But all of a sudden, he has vanished into thin air.
Now, the agent is taking a shower - and gets killed by another ex-soldier. Tsui Hark himself has a cameo as well resp. he is in the locker room and finds the agent's dead body.
186.3 sec in total (= 3:06 min)
Altered Audio Track
06:38-06:50 / 03:31-03:43
When Ah Lung and Ko die Treppen are rushing down the stairs, the dialog differs resp. the dialog was re-recorded.
In the Theatrical Version, they harmlessly talk about going to Paul for a joyride he got his dad's car.
In the DC on the other hand, Paul has build a bomb and they want to take a look at it. They discuss the components.
Alternate / Partially Recut / Additional Footage Theatrical Version
07:02-12:16 / 03:56-08:59
Consequently, the visit is different as well. For the first time, footage with a rather bad quality has been used for the very first time. It also has hardcoded subtitles.
The boys are joyriding and when they lose control due to a moped, they accidentally run over an old man. Panic-fuelled, they get back in the car and drive off. Moments later, they stop right in front of a mysterious woman standing on the street (Wan Chu). She looks at them, then they drive off.
Early in the following morning, the three of them sadly discuss the incident. Possible traces of blood are being removed from the tires.