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Comrades, Almost a Love Story
|     review    |     notes     |     awards     |     availability     |
Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai
Chinese: 甜蜜蜜
Year: 1996
Director: Peter Chan Ho-Sun
Writer: Ivy Ho
Cast: Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Leon Lai Ming, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Kristy Yeung Kung-Yu, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Christopher Doyle
The Skinny: While some may decry the film for it's Hollywood-like glossiness, Comrades, Almost a Love Story proves to be one of the finest Hong Kong films of the past decade. Peter Chan has crafted a commercial romance filled with rich details and wonderful sentiment, and one that is uniquely Hong Kong as well.
by Kozo:

Director Peter Chan’s heartfelt story of two mainlanders caught in predestiny’s web is an incredibly moving film and one of the top films of the year. It's also the return of Hong Kong's best actress, the luminous Maggie Cheung, who's been absent from HK film since 1994. 

Li Xiao-Jun (Leon Lai) is a newly-immigrated Mainlander who comes to Hong Kong in 1986 to make money for his family back in Wusih. Lost at first, he comes to befriend local girl Chiao (Maggie Cheung), a fervent moneymaker who shuns friends to make money. She hooks Xiao-Jun up with an English class (for a small finder's fee) to better his chances of landing a job. Despite her initial reservations, the two become friends as Chiao uses Xiao-Jun as an employee for her money-making projects. As fate would have it, the two become best friends and casual lovers, which is a problem since Xiao-Jun has a fiancée back in Wusih. 

The two vow to stay only friends, which seems easy as their lives prosper. However, when financial slowdown sets in, things take a turn for the worse. Chiao turns to working in a massage parlor for cash, and comes to question her "friendship" with Xiao-Jun. Eventually the two part. Xiao-Jun brings his fiancee, Xiao-Ting (newcomer Kristy Yeung), to Hong Kong, and Chiao eventually takes up with local triad boss Pao (Eric Tsang). However, despite their best efforts, their fates cross again and the two find themselves questioning their earlier choices. 

Peter Chan brings the same respectful touch to this film that he does his others, but he holds back from the sentimentality of Age of Miracles or the lurid exposition of Who's the Woman, Who's the Man. Comrades, Almost a Love Story is a UFO production, but it's also the most restrained UFO production ever. Instead of getting the pithy platitudes or existential musings that UFO is famed for, we get a fleshed-out, complete story about two people who struggle not to fall in love. 

Furthermore, the film's exposition doesn't play like exposition. It arises from the struggles and characters and not from the pen of an ambitious screenwriter. Ivy Ho's script is rich with wonderful details that draw upon the culture and the history of recent Hong Kong. She eventually falls upon movie-like clichés to bring the film full circle, but the plot devices don't feel like plot devices. 

One could accuse the film of a Hollywood-like glossiness (the usual complaint about UFO), but to do so would be a disservice to the filmmakers and the actors. Maggie Cheung is simply wonderful in this movie; her luminous screen presence has been sorely missed. Leon Lai turns in probably his best performance ever. He's still somewhat wooden, but he seems to inhabit a real character this time, and not some variation on himself. Always one of Hong Kong's strongest actors, Eric Tsang is excellent here as Pao. He plays a character type, but he imbues him with personality and believable depth. 

Destiny is apparently a force that fascinates Hong Kong, which is understandable as they’ve felt themselves swept along by the river of history, with little or no control over their eventual fate. With the specter of 1997 hanging over Hong Kong, the film's themes seem especially resonant. However, calling Comrades, Almost a Love Story a political metaphor would be a disservice to the film. It's an affecting story with real characters, and a movie that Hong Kong should be proud of. (Kozo 1996/1998)

Notes: It should be noted: Comrades, Almost a Love Story was a massive winner at the 1996 Hong Kong Film Awards, pulling down awards for Maggie Cheung, Peter Chan, Ivy Ho, Eric Tsang and just about everyone except Leon Lai. It was also the big winner at the Seattle International Film Festival, and propelled director Peter Chan beyond the sphere of Hong Kong. His English-language debut, The Love Letter, was produced by Dreamworks and premiered in May of 1999 opposite a little movie called Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

16th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Picture
• Winner - Best Director (Peter Chan Ho-Sun)
• Winner - Best Actress (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk)
• Winner - Best Supporting Actor (Eric Tsang Chi-Wai)
• Winner - Best Screenplay (Ivy Ho)
• Winner - Best Cinematography (Jingle Ma Chor-Sing)
• Winner - Best Art Direction (Yee Chung-Man)
• Winner - Best Costume Design (Ng Lei-Lo)
• Winner - Best Original Music Score (Chui Jun-Fun)
• Nomination - Best Actor (Leon Lai Ming)
• Nomination - Best New Artist (Kristy Yeung Kung-Yu)
3rd Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
Winner - Best Picture
• Winner - Best Director (Peter Chan Ho-Sun)[tie]
• Winner - Best Actress (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk)

Seattle International Film Festival
Winner - Best Picture

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Warner Home Video (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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image courtesy of Mei Ah Laser Disc Co., Ltd. Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen