[Last Film I Watched] Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996)

Comrades Almost a Love Story poster

English Title: Comrades: Almost a Love Story
Original Title: Tian mi mi 甜蜜蜜
Year: 1996
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin, English
Genre: Romance, Drama
Director: Peter Chan 陈可辛
Writer: Ivy Ho 岸西
Music: Chiu Tsang-Hei 赵增熹
Cinematography: Jingle Ma 马楚成
Leon Lai 黎明
Maggie Cheung 张曼玉
Eric Tsang 曾志伟
Kristy Yang 杨恭如
Christopher Doyle
Irene Tsu
Joe Cheung 张同祖
Ting Yu 丁羽
Michelle Gabriel
Rating: 8.2/10

Comrades Almost a Love Story 1996

Peter Chan’s COMRADES: ALMOST A LOVE STORY is a touchstone of Hong Kong cinema, a decade-spanning romance revolves around two Chinese mainlander finding their feet in HK from the bottom-line and shoved together by loneliness, camaraderie and simmering affection, yet their life trajectory would bifurcate by checkered fate, only to be reunited in a foreign land of New York City, ten years after their first encounter, serendipitously facilitated by the news of the sad demise of their favorite singer Teresa Teng (1953-1995).

Li Xiaojun (Lai) and Li Qiao (Maggie Cheung), he is a wide-eyed Northerner arrives in HK to stay with his auntie (Tsu), doesn’t speak Cantonese but his dream is to earn enough money to bring her fiancée Xiaoting (Yang) to HK and tie the knots; she, a Southerner from Guangdong Province who sports a fluent Cantonese (initially, she withholds her provenance from him), is more opportunistic and all she wants to be is a successful Hong Kong citizen, thus, the biggest barrier between them is their disparate nature of their goals, but that doesn’t stop them from being friends and sometimes, bed-mates through the vicissitude of their lives. But the key is always in her hands, from a MacDonald girl, to various sidelines, it is the unethical job of a masseuse introduces Li Qiao to the triad boss Pao (Tsang), an ostentatious, chubby shortie whom she grows attached with, in Ivy Ho’s organically unforced script, this reflects a limpid sensibility of don’t-judge-the-book-by-its-cover philosophy, and this sidebar would culminate in a heartstring-tugging crescendo where Maggie Cheung enthralls us with a textbook exemplar of how to turn on the waterworks.

Both Xiaojun and Li Qiao would attain their dreams in due course, but that doesn’t automatically bring them the happiness they pine for, it is a familiar scenario of right people meet in the wrong time, which is well-integrated into their backdrop of an unglamorous view of Hong Kong at its time, a financial hub beckons a better life, but also rifles with geometrical and language discrimination (the Teresa Teng mythos), speculative business (dubious stock market), nostalgia (auntie’s lingering on the beggar-belief history with William Holden) and an undertow of uncertainty during that consequential decade, before Hong Kong would be returned to its motherland in 1997 to bookend its colonial history.

Burnished by Ivy Ho’s top-notch diegesis (one particularly coup-de-maître comes when Li Qiao accidentally honks her car, which prompts Xiaojun into action of rekindling their affair, with Teresa’s autograph emblazoned as an oracular signpost, it is one of those fortuitous incidents actually could become a game-changer in one’s life), and two leads’ deeply engaging performances, Leon Lai is thoroughly uncontrived in a very sympathetic and good-natured role without coming off as cutesy, and Maggie Cheung, the Hong Kong cinema goddess, one just cannot overpraise her magnificence and versatility (please, come back to the silver screen!), Peter Chan’s outstanding romance saga eschews every nook and cranny to embarrass itself as a schlocky weepie and withstands its emotional punch up until its well-rounded cyclical coda, a knowing nod to the numinous methodology of predestination.

Oscar 1996  Comrades Almost a Love Story


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