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First Option (1996) is either the second or third in the series of the "Option" movies, depending on how you look at it.  The first was Final Option (1994), somewhere in-between was Best Of The Best (1996), next was Option Zero (1997), then after a five year hiatus someone decided to make New Option (2002).

First Option
Movie
The basic plot revolves around a green (ie  inexperienced) customs officer Minnie Kwan (Gigi Leung) who botches up yet another drug-den raid, she is then forced to play second fiddle to top gun Inspector Lau (Damian Lau) when he arrives with his crack (ie  top) team of SWAT commandos, otherwise known as the Tiger Eagles.  Both don't see eye to eye but they must work together in order to stop the biggest shipment of the new drug "Ice" from hitting the streets of Hong Kong.

It's hard to classify First Option as a bad movie since the only thing that doesn't really sell here is the scripting, very predictable and run-of-the-mill.  However, the philosophies of police life and drugs on the streets are actually very thought-provoking, but it's the action that I'm sure is the selling point.  Even then, I'd hazard to say that apart from the decidedly documentary feel to the production there's not much else to recommend about it ... unless you're totally into the strategies of teamplay with firearms.

Having studied up on the supplemental material on this DVD, it does give the general impression that this was a huge learning experience for the cast and crew in "how to make a movie", so when you watch the end product it almost has that "experimental" feel about it all, as if everyone involved were trying to find their feet as bona-fide filmmakers.  I get the feeling that this script was deemed quite ordinary at the time the film was greenlit and that it wouldn't have mattered how the subject matter was treated, so in a weird way this gives it more credibility than I'm sure the script really deserved.  Essentially, the fibres of reality will soon set in and you will find yourself wondering whether it was all worth the effort or not.

First Option
I'm sure that most of the actors were able to sell themselves in the roles they played here, but one has to ponder about the actor (Damian Lau) chosen to play the main character, since his only qualification for the role seems to be that of the tallest and most handsomest guy onscreen - I mean, who wants to look at a stumpy guy who can't even see over the heads of his own crew?  Another thing about Lau in this piece is that he seems to be drinking water every chance he gets (which isn't an unusual thing for anyone who wants to keep as fit as they possibly can), but unfortunately I was getting sympathy pains from watching this and I constantly felt the need to relieve my bladder every five minutes or so.

Video
Can HKL do no wrong?  Their dream of distributing Hong Kong films in the R2 market better than the local R3 product itself is still strong.  If you've ever witnessed the drabness that is a non-anamorphic NTSC version of a Hong Kong movie, then you know that HKL will eventually blow that out of the water with the best possible 16:9 PAL presentation of it down the line somewhere.

The first thing to note on this image is that the majority of the film exhibits a decidedly cold blue hue, which is undoubtedly the director's creative choice at the time of filming.  Colours are obviously muted to the point that there is barely anything that rates as a red, even when people are being shot to pieces.  The green jungles and backgrounds too deliver a stark look to the life of the average SWAT team member, although the skintones do show moments of warmth at certain points.  Focus and sharpness is quite decent and is never an issue when things are flying thick and fast onscreen.

Black levels tend to vary depending on the scene in question - many of the brighter scenes and most night time shots hold out better on this facet of the image, whereas some of the interior and indeed rainy sequences seem to be slightly overexposed (probably to compensate for the lack of contrast) and resultantly these hold a washed out look to the shadow detail.  Grain too is prevalent but almost unnoticeable throughout the running time, although it has to be said that this is probably one of the cleaner prints ever to come out of Media Asia's film vaults.

Audio
Not the kind of "blow you away" mix that should be part and parcel of any gun-toting movie such as this, but since it was produced in the mid 1990s this was a time when Hong Kong was finally catching up to the standards of film production that Hollywood had been using for years.

This mix exhibits a good range of different types of gunfire, however it has a relative lack of impact when viewed on a normal stereo-capable TV and it will only breathe any kind of life when heard on a good home theatre system.  It doesn't present much of a workout for the surrounds, however the subwoofer gives a subtle but effective performance with the moody and action oriented pieces of the film.

First Option
Dialogue is for the most part easy enough to discern in either the Cantonese or English incarnations, but there are a couple of instances when the sync-sound (on-the-set recordings) are well below the level required to be heard properly, even when nothing else is happening in the mix.  But what strikes me as quite amazing is the almost seamless switch between the sync-sound and redubbed dialogue from the main character Lau - in the original "Chinese" soundtrack he speaks half his dialogue in Cantonese then in English, but when he redubs himself to respeak his original Cantonese lines into full English it has the same tonal quality as when he was speaking the English as recorded on the set.

By the way, sync-sound is the technique used to record dialogue at the time of shooting the scene - this method was almost never used in Hong Kong film productions as their filming conditions even now are not at all ideal with the extra unavoidable sound issues on any given location.  Up until the late 1990s, about the only instance of sync-sound was on Jackie Chan's Police Story 3: Supercop - any movie before and after this one was almost always silent and later ADR'd and foley'd in a recording studio.

Extras
Unfortunately, the menu system is one of those 25% or so of HKL titles that tends to be hard on the "hand-eye navigation" part of the experience - the small arrows that indicate which section to go for are almost unnoticeable amidst all the cacophony of wooshing images etc.  Another interesting thing to note here is the backing music which has the uncanny resemblance to a Jackie Chan movie called First Strike,  as it has an almost James Bond styling to it all - I know for a fact it is not the same musical piece as this, but the similarities are hard to ignore.

First Option
Talk about double trouble, the audio commentary not only has the famous Bey Logan on board but also the editor of Impact East Mike Leeder (which I believe Bey Logan was also involved with for a while there).  These two bounce off each other like bullets on kevlar (okay, they stick together like glue ;) so you will be in for some entertaining banter indeed, however their interest lies more with what everyone has done outside of this production rather than putting a lot of emphasis on what is quite a banal filmscript anyway.  The interview gallery holds relatively interesting discussions of the experiences on this film with action director Bruce Law and actress Gigi Leung.  The behind the scenes triplet of two-minute featurettes are of passing interest to those who'd like to know how the raw footage is first obtained to be then edited into something more exciting for the final product.

The trailer archive sports some interesting promos for the Premier Asia and Hong Kong Legends banners.  On the Premier Asia label there is Musa (no trailer tho), Bang-Rajan (an 18th century tale of warring Burmese and Siamese factions) and Bichunmoo (a wire-fu love story) - all of these are 2-disc special editions.  On the Hong Kong Legends label there is The Killer, Police Story, Flaming Brothers, Crime Story and, most interestingly, The Avenging Fist - this last trailer is an incredible meld of many sci-fi films including Blade Runner, Mortal Kombat, The Matrix, Dark City and any other movies you can think of - it also involves the two "Opera Brothers" (Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao) who grew up with Jackie Chan in their early childhood and went on to seek fame and fortune with him in the 1980s.

First Option
And finally (I should have mentioned this way back when I did my first HKL DVD review) ... I think the now common Hong Kong Legends two-minute plod-through of the logos and copyright warnings should be reduced significantly as this grows more and more tiresome every time you load up any of their discs.

Summary
Frankly, I feel there were other films more worthy of the time and effort that the Hong Kong Legends group is legendary for, although I can't say that this is the worst flick they've ever bothered to remaster.  If you know what this film is all about and have no reservations regarding its replay value, then you won't be disappointed with this offering.  As for everyone else ...


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