The Longest nite from 1998 is a classic Hong Kong noir action thriller made by Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai and credited director Patrick Yau. As a noir styled film, by its very nature The Longest nite was never going to be easy to transfer to home video formats, the combination of a low budget and how dark the film is, was always going to cause problems with the video formats of the time. Added to this issues with Hong Kong film preservation, which have long caused problems with older films being re-released on dvd and a complete lack of any release in the US or UK, results in few options for fans of this great film.
The Longest nite was released on vcd, laserdisc and dvd by Universe, I have not seen the laserdisc but the vcd is practically unwatchable. The dvd is now long out of print and can regularly be seen on ebay advertised at vastly inflated prices due to it being rare, as far as I know its the only English friendly dvd released to date. The disc has a non anamorphic transfer of the 2.35:1 feature, it is soft, lacking detail and the compression is very poor. The only upsides to the disc are the English subs, they aren't great, but just about get the job done, the disc also has some fun extras, unfortunately not subtitled, including footage of Johnnie To shaving Lau Ching Wan's head for the film.
If you have read my previous dvd comparisons for The Mission and The Blade you will know where this is headed. The French dvd company HK Video released The Longest nite on region 2 dvd in 2005. The dvd has an excellent anamorphic transfer, detail is much improved as is compression and the transfer is framed slightly differently, with slightly more picture information on top and both sides and slightly less at the bottom compared to the Universe dvd and is probably as good as the film is going to look as a blu ray release looks unlikely. As is usually the case with French releases, no english subtitles are available. The French disc comes packaged in a fold out digipac, with a 56 page colour booklet together in an outer slipcase. A French dub or original Cantonese mono with French subtitles are the audio options. The only extra is an interview with Johnnie To in Cantonese with French subs.
The French disc proved to be more difficult to add subtitles to than the previous dvds I have subbed as the subs available to download were not in sync with the pal video, which meant having to re-sync them, the result is not perfect but is still a significant improvement over the Universe disc.
Below are screen captures from the two dvds, while every effort has been made to capture as close to the same frame as possible, using the equipment I have it is not possible to guarantee it is exactly the smae frame. The screen grabs are presented exactly as captured and have not been processed in any way, click on the capture to see it full size. HK Universe dvd first, followed by the HK Video French dvd.
While it is a shame that the only quality release of The Longest nite is compromised by a lack of English subtitles, at least it has a good dvd available, whereas others such as Too many ways to be number one, Expect the unexpected and A hero never dies don't have any sort of quality release available anywhere. Milkyway image need to do something similar to what Wong Kar Wai did with his films and start a remastering program to restore these films to how they should look and make them readily available once again.