Sunday, April 18th, 2010
Maggie Cheung — McDonald’s Employee of the Decade
Comrades, Almost a Love Story is my favorite Hong Kong romance of all-time.* I love this movie more than Needing You, Chungking Express, and In the Mood for Love, and I’m extremely fond of all three. This Peter Chan-directed film garnered numerous prizes at the 16th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards, and with good reason, it’s a wonderful film. Comrades tells the story of Xiao-Jun, a dopey, goodhearted Mainland Chinese immigrant played by Leon Lai, who arrives in Hong Kong looking to make a few bucks to send back home as well as save up for his eventual wedding to his hometown sweetheart (Kristy Yeung). As fate would have it, our hero befriends a tough, street savvy “local” girl named Chiao (Maggie Cheung). The two make an unlikely pair; they certainly don’t seem all that compatible on the surface, but as you might expect, sparks start to fly. What happens next is a decade long “romance” that takes us from the streets of Hong Kong all the way to New York City.
Who doesn’t love that bicycle scene? Or the way that Teresa Teng’s music is deftly interwoven into the fabric of the story as a kind of thematic parallel? This is, by far, my favorite Maggie Cheung performance of all-time, and this movie definitely made me see Leon Lai in a completely different light. The most surprising performance in the film is Eric Tsang’s; he is flat-out is great in this movie. Tsang’s role as Maggie Cheung’s possible love interest may seem absurd on paper (see Wo Hu for a similar Eric Tsang romance that stretches the limits of believability), but he really makes it work. Initially, you think his character is going to be just another menacing gangster cliche, but Tsang (and the scriptwriters, one assumes) give the character a wise, “seen-it-all” maturity that makes him incredibly endearing, even if you’re rooting for a Chiao/Xiao-Jun romance to take flight. His “exit” from the from the movie isn’t just a case of removing a second suitor from the proceedings — you actually care what happens to him and mourn his loss. Speaking of heartbreaking, how about Kristy Yeung’s character, Xiao Ting? A more stereotypical romance would have given her a fatal flaw to make her character much more easily dispensable — except she isn’t; she’s the sweetest character in the whole movie. And that’s one of the things I really like about this film — there are no bad guys. Nobody is a lout. Love happens when you least expect it, but not without a few hearts getting broken in the process.