Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In Praise of Maggie Cheung #3

 The following is an ongoing exploration of the prolific work from actress Maggie Cheung

 Comrades, Almost A Love Story (1996), directed by Peter Chan

Similar in theme to "Farewell China" made six years prior, Peter Chan's "Comrades, Almost A Love Story" not only provides Maggie the far better role, but it deals with the 'Mainlanders' struggle for social acceptance and financial viability in the hustling urban sprawl of Hong Kong in a much more realistic and less frenetic light than that earlier effort. Here, Cheung and fellow Chinese Leon Lai connect, almost become a couple, and then spend an inordinate amount of time almost connecting as their fates buoy over a decade in Hong Kong. Lushly romantic and heartfelt, Cheung becomes one of those female figures in cinema who seems too good to be true as she orbits around Lai. It's a tribute to her soft eyes and honed performance that she never comes off as anything but sincere. "Comrades, Almost A Love Story" is OOP on home video, but any fan of Maggie deserves the chance to see it.

Police Story 1 and 2 (1985-1988), directed by Jackie Chan

Perhaps the worst roles of Maggie's career in the 1980's is playing second fiddle to Jackie Chan and his Abbott and Costello hi-jinks as the supercop who flips, dives, and smirks his way across Hong Kong busting up organized crime and driving a car through a mountainside village way before the majestic stunt was dreamed up by Michael Bay for "Bad Boys 2". As the girlfriend to Chan, Maggie is either wasted as comic relief or dangerous bait after being captured. Still, it's hard to deny these roles in the megabuster series- both in Asia and here in America- didn't add to her growing popularity and international acclaim.

Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993), directed by Jeff Lau

This is the first time I can admit having to suffer through a film for the performance of Maggie Cheung, which even then is so sporadic and limited, that she probably shouldn't even receive a credit. Lau's "Eagle Shooting Heroes" is emblematic of those 90's HK films that tried extremely hard to win over an entire fanbase on both sides of the ocean. Broad comedy, cartoon slapstick, cross-dressing and high-wire action fights are the common denominator to a fantastic story about queens, wizards, ninjas and magic shoes. Thankfully, by this point, Cheung was becoming well established in the films of Wong Kar Wai and Stanley Kwan, able to abandon these more low-brow efforts for serious minded films.

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