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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

My Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s — Tian Mi Mi


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.

Another thing that I love about this movie is the way that it toys with you in the final act, especially for those of you who make up the film’s English-language audience. Although titled “Tian Mi Mi” for Chinese audiences (after the Teresa Teng song of the same name), it’s the Western title — Comrades, Almost a Love Story — that makes you wonder if that’s a direct hint about how the film will turn out. Late in the movie, there’s a sequence in New York City involving Maggie Cheung where the music, edits, and camera positioning create the impression that the movie is about to be over — on a sad, but possibly appropriate note. I won’t spoil the moment, but for me, this one scene could’ve easily faded to black to make way for the end credits. But thankfully, Peter Chan Ho-Sun had other ideas about how to end his film. What ensues immediately after that sequence is perhaps one of greatest uses of frame composition, shot-reverse-shot editing, performances, and music I’ve seen in any film of any nation in any decade. And then just when you think you’ve seen all you needed to see, the film fades out to a black and white flashback that both comically and poignantly brings everything full circle. In the words of Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.” 

Introduction: My Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s
Part 2: Once Upon a Time in the Cinema
Part 3: Jackie Chan, Man of Action
Part 4: A Cop Named Tequila
Part 5: WKW is A-OK
Part 6: Epilogue


*I was lucky enough to see this film at the Hawai’i International Film Festival with none other than Maggie Cheung in attendance. I was hoping to take a picture, but just as I snapped the picture, a woman with the biggest hair imaginable stepped right in front of me. And then, with her speech finished, the endearingly shy Maggie Cheung suddenly bolted back into the audience! *Sigh*

One Response to “My Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s — Tian Mi Mi”

  1. Viktor Says:

    Oh thanks, you just reminded me of how much I love this movie. I am agreeing with everything you say. Hong Kong wouldn’t be the magical place it is to my mind without this movie.

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