Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another Cherie Chung Double Feature

Hong Kong Hong Kong

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that 1983's Hong Kong Hong Kong is one of *the* masterpieces of modern Hong Kong cinema. I say that while admitting that there are parts of the film that felt melodramatic (the music, for instace) but I also am admitting that I think that the film worked completely with uniformly great performances all around; so what if we've seen this kind of story over and over when it works so well?

1983's Hong Kong Kong Hong Kong tells the story of illegal immigrants from the Mainland to Hong Kong and it provides a fascinating picture of a Hong Kong that has changed a great deal in the past 26 years, I'd venture to say. Cherie Chung, still looking radiant in her plain flowery dresses, lives with fellow immigrants in a shantytown but yearns for more. She agrees to a marriage of convenience with an older man, played by Kwan Hoi San, but her path seems set to intersect with a Thai-Chinese boxer played by Alex Man.

While there are moments in the plot that do feel a bit too contrived, on the whole, the performances all feel very real, with Cherie especially projecting vulnerability and longing with just a glance.

Alex Man's boxer meets a fellow boxer/gambler played by Lo Lieh (he of the classic King Boxer and numerous other Shaw films) and soon is being groomed for bigger and bigger prizes.

Cherie's old husband simply wants a kid and she sees the marriage almost like a business agreement which she can leave once she provides a son to the old man.

The love triangle and the boxing plot collide in an ending that I'm sure will stay with me for days.

What does it say about a film that my biggest complaint is simply the sometimes obtrusive musical score?

The images of Alex Man boxing against a neon skyline -- Toshiba glowing in the background representing other immigrants to Hong Kong but ones with a bit more success; the bright lights a level of power and money that the young boxer is struggling to reach -- and Cherie's reactions as she watches Alex box on television are just vivid and wonderful for me.


Stanley Kwan's Women is a decent little film that seems like an inadvertent time capsule entry on Hong Kong life circa 1985. If you can get past the dated hairstyles and clothing choices, there's a nice little film about fidelity in here. Cora Miao, Mrs. Wayne Wang, gives a nice, understated performance opposite Chow Yun-Fat. Cherie Chung is on the cover of the DVD and on the poster but, really, she has a supporting role; she's quite good too as the other woman breaking up Cora's marriage.

The film seems like some kind of precursor to Sex and The City as Cora and her gal pals get together to discuss their lives and the men in their lives or to just celebrate being single and successful.

Stanley Kwan really had a knack at directing women (Centre Stage, Full Moon in New York, and Rouge, for example) and he lets the focus come largely from Cora's character's perspective.

At the same time, it would be easy to turn Chow Yun-Fat's cheating hubby into a cartoon scoundrel but it doesn't happen; he's not perfect by any means but the character remains interesting and somewhat sympathetic.

Cherie Chung's role is the cartoony one and she is admittedly a bit shrill in this role -- maybe it was written that way on purpose?

Most of the actresses that I like so much (Anita Yuen, Maggie Cheung) are adept at different styles of acting and can excel in multiple genres. Cherie certainly showed a lot of range even before Peking Opera Blues; I feel like, were I to watch that film today, I'd probably appreciate Cherie's performance a good deal more now.

Cherie was recently spotting dining with director Peter Chan (hat tip to HKMDB News) which is surely good news for the actress if the rumours are true about her considering a return to acting.

The film also features a nice supporting turn from Elaine Kam and a young Eric Tsang with hair!

Hong Kong Hong Kong is out-of-print on DVD but you can order the VCD here.

You can order Women on DVD here.