If you know me, then you will know I have a massive crush on Gong Li. She is perfection, and I will watch anything she is in. Sadly, it took me a few years (OK, maybe 10+ years) to get around to watching this film and it was worth the wait. The strength of the film and what makes it survive well the decade since its realization resides however in the rendition of the city. Hong Kong is truely a place of wonder, however 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. 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.
This is, in my opinion, one of the best statements on the human condition that has ever been encoded in film. The street scenes I thought really enhanced the ambience of the film and plot. 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. Western people has problems with understanding Asian mind and way of living and unfortunately only very few people really tries to do. Irons’ character realizes the current story is empty and the “new” story (by the great inventors of history, the communists) will differ only superficially.
At the same time, he attempts to understand the life of Jean, an incest survivor who in the course of John’s intervention gradually stops hiding a large facial scar. I couldn’t help but come to the conslusion this seems to mirror aspects of the political and cultural relationship between the British and Hong Kong Chinese. The reality in the movie is very healthy and wonderful. It shows the relationship between the colonial British and the people in Hong Kong in a very truthful way. It’s definitely a movie for today’s culture. Neither Gong Li nor Maggie Cheung have ever been nominated for an Oscar, which is surprising. As we learn her story, we question her mental stability, but also see how people can live inside their dreams.
Chinese Box was without a doubt, one of the most interesting films I’ve seen for quite a while. That said, it’s not for everyone, and it’s the kind of film that I am always surprised to see in a RedBox or video store, because I can see little or no mainstream market for it. It was varied and well paced, and I enjoyed the setting. It was, for the most part, unpredictable and had a real life feel to it. I found this particularly satisfying for a story that takes place in an exotic setting. Lastly, if you couldn’t tell by the many references in this review, the characters’ ambiguous personal histories are metaphors for the city. Chinese Box is a clever device that is seemingly simple but capable of endless intrigue and twist.