peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2024 04 02 Comrades AlmostALoveStory

Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996)

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Directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan and by far the highest rated of his efforts at IMDB. He was one of the talking heads in the Christopher Doyle biopic Like the Wind. Doyle appears as an English teacher who draws massive smiles from all his students, perhaps due to his use of inappropriate teaching materials or the eternal presence of a drink in his hand. Not much is asked of his or his Thai prostitute girlfriend Michelle Gabriel's acting skills. Jingle Ma did the cinematography and it's great in tight but I wanted to see more of the rooms more often.

Maggie Cheung is luminous in the lead. She's fetching even in her 1980s Maccas garb and two coats for a cold Lunar New Year's Eve. Notionally she and her fellow mainland-escapee Leon Lai are fated lovers but it takes the whole movie for things to work out. He's a bit too inert with a shy smile that sort-of works but he generally lacks her expressiveness. I guess this reflects the tentativeness of his character but it never stopped me from wondering why Maggie couldn't do better. Irene Tsu is great as Aunt Rosie: she has a fixation on William Holden who I only know as an older bloke in Network. Eric Tsang rounds out the leads as the avuncular, accommodating Triad (?) boss. He doesn't need to get out of first gear.

The plot is basically the romantic parts of Doctor Zhivago: both move to Hong Kong in the mid-1980s and eventually become friends in a commercial/transactional way at a then-novel Maccas. He lives with his aunt in a brothel and nobody seems to bat an eyelid about that. There are quite a few nice touches along the way and a few clangers too. The final movement is a love letter to mid-1990s NYC.

I watched it over many sittings as it's pretty shallow and quite enjoyable. I wish the subtitles had been clearer about which language the characters were speaking (Cantonese or Mandarin) as it would've added some depth. There's no violence (c.f. City on Fire).

Lawrence van Gelder for the New York Times. Unbanned on the mainland in 2015. Maggie deservedly cleaned up at the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse.