Chinese Box

1998

Chinese Box

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

62%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 21

54%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,724
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Movie Info

As Hong Kong changes hands, a dying journalist wrestles with his hopeless love for a former prostitute. In other words, a long and tortured metaphor.

Cast

Li Gong
as Vivian
Jared Harris
as William
Chaplin Chang
as Homeless Man
Noel Rands
as John's Friend at New Year's Party
Emma Lucia
as Amanda Everheart
Russell Cawthorne
as New Year's Party MC
Emotion Cheung
as William Wong
Julian Chang
as Dr. Chang
Jian Rui Chao
as Businessman No. 1
Yue Sing Wai
as Businessman No. 2
Lo Hung
as Businessman No. 3
Shirley Hung
as Girlfriend No. 1
Michelle Yeung
as Girlfriend No. 2
Alex Ng
as Drunk Karaoke Singer
Lee Chiu Wah
as Minibus Passenger
Pao Fung
as Godfather
Hui Fan
as Godfather's Wife
Lam Man Cheung
as Wedding Photographer
Lee Siu Kai
as Gangster No. 1
Leung Chi On
as Gangster No. 2
Tse Yuen Fat
as Gangster No. 3
Lee "Rod" Roderick
as Manhattan Club Bouncer
Hui Li
as Black Moon Hostess
Maria St. Lynne
as Black Moon Hostess
Gloria Wu
as News Reporter
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Critic Reviews for Chinese Box

All Critics (21) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (13) | Rotten (8)

Audience Reviews for Chinese Box

  • Mar 17, 2009
    Not sure what to say about this film, as I am really not sure what the points was. Its from a list of films listed in the 1997 Toronto International Film Festival, and all the other films from that list that I have seen have been great. This one is about a journalist who has leukemia and can't get over a girlfriend. He also meets a scare face women and why she was in this film is beyond me. But its during the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997, and the brits are kicked out of the country. This one just do it for me though I enjoyed the video shots of Hong Kong, Market Places. Music was good also. So 3 stars, I didn't fall a sleep.
    Bruce B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 17, 2008
    Amanda Everheart: "<i>I wonder, would you mind signing a copy for me?</i> John: <i>I'd just love that. I thought this was out of print.</i> Amanda Everheart: <i>I found it fascinating.</i> John: <i>You read it?</i> Amanda Everheart: <i>Yes, I did. I took a few tips and made a few investments actually. I particularly liked the chapter when you talk about Hong Kong as an honest whore.</i> John: <i>Of course we're all dying to find out how she copes with her new pimp.</i>" <a href="http://s172.photobucket.com/albums/w25/EarthlyAlien/?action=view¤t=Chinese01.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://i172.photobucket.com/albums/w25/EarthlyAlien/Chinese01.jpg" border="0" alt="Photobucket"></a> Wayne Wang's reputation as a director has unfairly hung on the immense success of <i>The Joy Luck Club</i>. Whereas his ethnic and cinematic pride infused Amy Tan's adaptation of her best-selling novel with a soaking visual richness, Wang later, in two improvisational collaborations with writer Paul Auster (<i>Smoke</i> and <i>Blue in the Face</i>), proved himself a free-spirited filmmaker as he rekindled the quirky, on-the-street atmosphere that had been absent from his works since his American debut, <i>Chan Is Missing</i>. That's why <i>Chinese Box</i> is such a refreshingly raw, emotional odyssey: it allows the Asian-American auteur to engage his cultural-political ardour within an affecting, neo-realistic framework. A story behind a scar, a fissure between a couple, a disease carried by a foreigner, and a video camera that probes the inner secrets of people and the outer ambiguities of their city make up the subject of <i>Chinese Box</i>, a loose, complex take on contemporary Hong Kong. Reflecting the tenuous political status of the port city, and shot on a schedule that was planned to include public reaction to Hong Kong's 1997 changeover from Britain to mainland China, <i>Chinese Box</i> follows the trajectories of four characters, but avoids coming to conclusions. What counts in the film are their journeys, diagnoses, and outreach to each other. None of the people depicted may be riding at the helm of history, but, in their own small and symbolic way, they stitch past and present together, and portray how destiny can be put in the hands of individuals. John (Jeremy Irons) is a British business journalist with no strong political opinions, but a high level of engagement in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. Not really an adventurer, his attraction to the city stems from his adaptability. His colleagues prefer clubby, Western hangouts, but John is equally at ease in neighbourhood cafes. He's long been in love with Vivian (Gong Li), a transplant from China and a club owner attached to an important Hong Kong businessman named Chang (Michael Hui): like him, she's become a part of the swirl of Hong Kong life, yet her roots, like his, lie in a more reserved culture. John is accommodating to his surroundings; Vivian, though, is adrift. She's unable to convince Chang to marry her, because he suspects something shameful in a past she does her best to conceal. When John learns he's dying from a rare form of leukemia, his journalistic inquisitiveness erupts, and he begins to open secrets that up to now he's learned to leave alone. He works furiously to persuade Vivian that life with her nouveau riche businessman lover would be a sham. He turns a camcorder on her relationship to Chang, and also on the streets of Hong Kong, hoping in the latter to find a mirror to his own desperation and solitude. But shooting the city from a distance doesn't bring him close to its pulse. He runs across Jean (Maggie Cheung), a street hawker whose scarred face foreshadows mystery. Sensing he can trust her, he lends her his video camera, asking her to record her life story. Jean's tape, played back at John's apartment, at last provides John with the links he's been looking for. Like him, she's suffered a debilitating love affair and a physical tragedy; and her story contains dilemmas particular to Hong Kong's mix of two civilizations. Though the one with less screen-time, Jean is the most complex character in the film. On one level, <i>Chinese Box</i> works as a metaphor for the state of Hong Kong, insinuating some of its social conditions without resorting to clumsy symbols. The West can observe and learn about China, but its understanding is limited. The industrial world, however, brings in an enormous influx of money that inevitably has a corrupting influence on the local culture. Hong Kong's face is ever-changing, and the West's hold on the place is tentative. This is Wang's home turf - he was born in Hong Kong, two years after his parents fled mainland China following the Communist takeover. Yet apart from having a young man blow his brains out on New Year's Eve to protest the "loss of personal and cultural freedom," Wang eschews the political soapbox. Instead he crafts the film as a cathartic ode to a dear and passing friend. John is the vehicle for Wang's lament, and his disease represents the democratic vitality that was about to be extinguished in the city. On another level though, it's impossible not to slip occasionally into a stargazing mode, and marvel at the unique gathering of glamorous figures here, representing Western, Hong Kong and Chinese cinema. Part of Wang's strategy is to use these high-profile actors as icons of their respective film businesses, thus allowing the three systems to blend in one film. Irons turns in a natural, notable performance: his sunken, sardonic demeanour gives his character's romantic meanderings an appropriately defeatist definition. Similarly, Gong Li, who has always maintained an exquisite screen presence, is pleasing in a sensuous but scared portrait of feminine independence, proving once more she's as adept playing savvy social climbers as she is timid virgins. In one resonant scene, Vivian cleans her bar while watching Marlene Dietrich on TV: Wang imparts a sense not only of two love goddesses colliding, but also of the ephemeralness of glamour-queen beauty. Cheung, following her first ever English-language film (<i>Irma Vep</i>), demonstrates great dramatic range playing a woman as split within as the outside of her face, which is half-beautiful and half-deformed. Michael Hui adds a soft, humanistic touch and the always amicable Reubén Blades is fun as John's guitar-plucking sidekick and occasional flatmate. Some of the script's sophistication is attributable to legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, the former Luis Buñuel collaborator, and the cinematography's poetic rawness to Vilko Filac, who lent the gritty look to Kusturica's <i>Underground</i>. Wang's vision, whose career had had its share of sentimental hits, was becoming colder, but also more astute. This film was an indication that he was moving toward a clearer objectivity. <i>Chinese Box</i> hangs on the dislocation of its protagonist as it bounces among women, cultures, and classes, seeking closure as the end approaches. The first film to chronicle the handing over of Hong Kong, it's a tragic romance that often resembles the work of Wong Kar-wai and Peter Chan, and flirts with but never quite makes a political statement. Yet its honesty and emotional impact have set a mark that future Western filmmakers would find hard to beat.
    Pedro P Super Reviewer
  • Jan 01, 2008
    An intriguing movie.
    Leo L Super Reviewer

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