Set during the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997, this fascinating film uses that urgent and grandly ceremonial political backdrop for an intimate study of personal transition. Jeremy Irons plays a seasoned journalist ... more »who discovers he is terminally ill, causing him to be torn between his obsessive love for a former prostitute (Chinese film star Li Gong) and a streetwise hustler (Maggie Cheung) whom he has chosen as the subject of a video documentary. Through his involvement in the lives of these two very different women, director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) creates a cinematic "love-hate letter" to his native Hong Kong, where each character is allegorical and suffers an identity crisis much like Hong Kong itself. The film's love story is somewhat aimless and ultimately unimportant, but Chinese Box (even the title suggests a place that holds secrets within its borders) remains a fascinating film in the semi-documentary tradition, capturing the psychology of its time and place with compelling immediacy. Musician/actor/politician Ruben Blades is featured in a memorable supporting role. --Jeff Shannon« less
"I LOVE THIS MOVIE! Sorry, but I have to resort to caps to counter-act all these negative reviews. Wayne Wang is an underrated genius. Sure he's made his fair share of crapola (Maid in Manhattan?), but Joy Luck Club, Center of the World, Smoke, and Chinese Box are all high art as far as I'm concerned. To me this film is about the inability of a westerner to fully understand the east, and more specifically the changing but undying spirit of Hong Kong. Using the british withdrawl from Hong Kong as a backdrop for a story about a dying british man in love with an unattainable Hong Kong woman is an interesting irony by itself.
As far as Gong Li's character being a stereo-typical high-class asian prostitute, and that being a folly of Mr. Wang (as suggested by another review), I think something is being missed. The whole point of her character is that she represents that western (male) fantasty, and is therefore unattainable. Maggie Chueng is the other side of that coin. She is the REAL Hong Kong, although equally elusive. She even has her own "Jeremey Irons" (british boyfriend) that is to her unattainable. Get it?
The shots and camera work are unbelievable in this film. The atomosphere is %50 of it. It has an almost cyberpunk quality. The music, especially Dadawa, is awesome aswell. This is a multi-faceted work of art. By the way, the DVD has some great features!"
You either love or hate this film, I absolutely LOVED it
Bawko | West Valley City, Utah United States | 05/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As with all true masterpieces, you either love or hate this film. I have read all of the reviews for this film on Amazon.com and IMDB (Internet Movie Database) and one thing stands out: All of the reviewers either pointed out what a piece of trash this movie was, or were totally and completely entralled with it's cinematographic spendor. I must confess that I fall into the latter category. I have watched literally thousands of movies in my life (average of 10 per week) and I have to admit that most of them have been forgotten. It is for movies like Chinese Box that I wade through the endless sea of mediocre and just plain pointless films, on the off chance that I will find a jewel in the rough. I feel that Chinese Box is one of the true jems, I would place it in my top 3 list. For those who have experienced the truly memorable experiences (both good and bad) that life can throw at those who REALLY think and care, this movie is for you ! It will dredge all of the past meloncholic feelings out of your subconscious mind and shatter your everyday demeanor. I found myself in tears at the beautiful conclusion of this film, something that only 1 other movie (Bladerunner) has ever been able to accomplish. I have never in my life viewed a motion picture that so perfectly captures the essence of the human condition. All in all, I would say that this is one of the few films I will ever watch again and again, and ever time that I view it will bring exquisite new meaning to this most meaningful piece of art. No, correct that, this MASTERPIECE of cinematography."
Stuck in the middle
kuroneko1 | Istanbul Turkey | 07/10/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Chinese box is a very interesting film. First of all a Wayne Wang film (remember eat a bowl of rice ? a film portrayed the Chinese immigrants life in US and excellent movie smoke as a result of his cooperation with Auster) that is set in Hong Kong and includes excellent performances by Irons, Li, and Cheung . Secondly it is based on the time period which was extremely important as well as worrying for many Asian people. It marked the end of British rule and unification with China. Film focuses on those days with an impossible love story between Irons and Li.
Film has full of images and tales about the people of Hong Kong and their way of living, power politics and market scale as well as the difference of eastern and western people in their way of thought and living. Irons' impossible love for Li and her struggle between two man, are represented throughout the film in a different way and thus forcing to make the viewer try to understand or at least make him/her to be as objective as it is possible on making judgements on Asian life. Western people has problems with understanding Asian mind and way of living and unfortunately only very few people really tries to do. As portrayed in Irons character, he tries to understand the people and the city over a decade but fails because in his words everything is changing so fast.(Maybe like many westerners suggest, it is rather a difficult task and since you have the best (!) of it why sweat it ?)
Wang draws the picture of city in one hand a fast moving, modern Asian city full of local and foreign businesscholics.Caught in the middle , on one hand trying to stay as traditional it can be but on the other hand trying to look , live and feel as a western democracy. There are many symbols and signs showing this as fish market, mah jong, family relationships as well as the businessman with mobile phones and blasting western flavoured music, scarred cheung and the running dog prepared to fight by the owner etc. Lions offers a solid performance and Li suceeds to come up with goods as it is her most difficult role so far portraying such an untraditional character. Cheung continues to rise with the young, hip but a bit of a desperate character.
This movie is not an easy, let's go type of film. As I mentioned, Wang tries to make us understand the way of life, thinking as well as the identity clashes in people who lives in this fascinating neon city. So viewer has to force his/hers mind to de code the symbols and icons which tells a lot to the viewer about the situation.
Basicly film is called Chinese box and it is a chinese box indeed. It expects you to open and solve it."
Look Harder; You Have To Think
Derek James Anderson | Seoul | 01/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Somewhere I read--I don't even know if it was in relation to this movie--that if you've never loved a woman you couldn't have, you won't understand this movie. This is a more than reductive introduction. I can begin by saying that this is one of the most thoughful and intelligent movies about the new internationalism that I have seen, but that sounds like a blurb. Irons is a man whose unconsumatable love for his adopted Hong Kong is embodied in his love for Gong Li's character, just as gong Li's character suffers from a love of the west that cannot escape old collonial cliches of bondage and subordination. So that's a pretty concise summary of the "significance" of each character, so what? By using the romantic metaphor, Wang manages to peel away a layer from our true international obsessions (at the heart of which is possession) and gambits. There are no flattering portraits in this movie: the west tries to use Asia for a quick buck, while Asia tries to use the west for a type of legitimacy. Unfortunately, the actions of the west have estranged it from itself (Irons being estranged from his family), while the attempts to embrace the west isolate the Asian from Asia (Gong Li's inability to climb up the Hong Kong social register). This is just a scratch. 1000 words can't do this very well done movie (except for the strangely lo-tech computer graphics title sequence) justice. You have to think. The movie's there, but you have to think."
hbotis | Hong Kong | 07/17/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Among the crop of Chinese filmmakers known in the US, Wayne Wang is by far the most intellectual. While some of his works were received warmly (say "Smoke" and "Blue in the Face"), many accused Wang of being over sentimental or even downright exploitative (think "Joy Luck Club") .Picking a place to stand with the film is an interesting position. For this viewer, "Chinese Box" is a fascinating, if flawed piece of "masterwork". Local Chinese in Hong Kong were largely unable to understand the film, citing Wang fabricated facts (such as the demonstration students setting themselves on fire, or the suicide shooting at the club to protest the Chinese Handover) while the whole affair was directed at a foreign (international) market. The gweilos (the expats in Hong Kong) hated it because they were portrayed as arrogant, self-serving prospectors, and there to make a quick buck.Wang's vision is unique, for the simple fact that this is someone who's brought up in Hong Kong, then migrated to the US. He returned to Hong Kong later on to work for a brief period, but (understandably) left again to continue his career.Before "Chinese Box", Wang made an independent feature "Life is cheap...but toilet paper is expensive" and it was a wild rollercoaster ride of the Hong Kong. Cutting and uncompromising, cynical yet laced with touches of poignancy, the film could not have made been made by anyone from Hong Kong. "Chinese Box" is, in many respect, the sequel. Placed side by side, the two films echo
the scarred history of Hong Kong.I love "Chinese Box" because Wang speaks about the gulfs between East and West that are never acknowledged. It touches on the narrowmindedness of much of the locals and the expat community.Wang fabricates some of the facts on the Handover for the simple reason it was a media event. Truth can be oliberated and fiction can easily be made up and printed. There's a nice bit where the photogenic Gong Li imitates Dietrich on the television, miming and reenacting her stage gestures. The reunion scene between Maggie Cheung and her former school sweetheart is akward and look exceeding uncomfortable on the screen. Yet, it is absolutely spot on and made sense.Don't watch this film as some piece of Asian exotica or Orientalist kitsch. Wang's thinking is far ahead of other directors like John Woo or even Ang Lee (much I think highly of Lee). Wang presents a reality of Hong Kong that few dares to admit."