²˘ğeğe (1996)
Comrades, Almost a Love Story

Reviewed by: JohnR
Date: 02/15/2007
Summary: Stupid Name, Great Movie

This is one of my all time favorite Hong Kong films; it's one I re-watch about once a year. I can't exaggerate how good Maggie Cheung is in this; the way she goes from a confident, ambitious, and above all selfish immigrant who wants nothing less than lots of money and what it can buy, to a wounded woman capable of making a huge self-sacrifice, to someone who's finally come to terms with all her demons, though with a hole in her heart, is extremely rewarding to watch. This is such a strong performance. The last time I watched it (last night), I kept an eye on her, trying to see whether she was acting so well or whether it was the story and script that made her seem good. The story/script are fine, but it's definitely her; her ability to communicate without words is an incredible talent.

And Leon Lai, though not on the same plane, does a really good job as the country bumpkin come to the big city. He, too, has a transition and he also carries it off, even if not as spectacularly as Maggie. Leon Lai bashers should view this before finalizing their opinion of him.

Eric Tsang plays his supporting role perfectly; I thought the scene on the boat when Maggie comes to him with a message and he holds her face in front of him and reads the message for himself in her eyes was worth the price of admission in itself.

Yes, there's a certain dragginess to it, sometimes it's a little melodramatic, and the professional makeup job on the early Maggie doesn't match her newly immigrated, MacDonald's counter staff character, but the whole is wonderful. Highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 09/01/2005
Summary: Works on many levels.

Patrick Chan and Ivy Ho throw every romantic movie convention imaginable into “Comrades, Almost a Love Story” and succeed in telling a touching and heartbreaking story. Lai Siu Gwan and Lee Kiu are two attractive, unattached and lonely Mainlanders trying to make their way in Hong Kong. The attraction between them is almost a palpable force. They are still drawn to the each other across oceans, continents and years—they are fated to be together, even though both of them fight against it.

This is close to the peak of Maggie Cheung’s powers. Strikingly beautiful and astonishingly talented, the audience falls in love with her from her first appearance in a MacDonald’s uniform. This is the Maggie that has enough Golden Horses to start a ranch, that the Germans loved in “Centre Stage” and the French went crazy for in “Clean”—and should have for “Irma Vep”. In the beginning her character works 20 hours a day at several jobs, trying to put together enough money to emigrate. She becomes a massager parlor girl, the wife/girlfriend/consort of a triad tough guy, a successful and wealthy businesswoman, an undocumented immigrant on the run from the law and a tour guide at the Statue of Liberty. The transitions are seamless, the acting transparent, the actress submerged in the character. If she had stopped making movies with “Comrades” she would be remembered as a great actress. There are a lot of screen filling close ups of her. One that is burned in my memory is when she and Leon Lai part after they see Teresa Tang and he gets her autograph on his jacket. She tells him to leave—the range of emotions she shows during this several second shot is astounding—then drops her head to the steering wheel and sounds the horn. He turns around and wonders if he should come back—the shot of Maggie’s face, biting her lower lip while willing him both to leave and to come back, is a thrilling piece of movie making.

On one level there is a very effective hyper-romantic movie. There are soulful looks, lingering glances and averted eyes. There is a wrenching leave-taking on a rain swept dock, a woman willing to stay with the man who needs her instead of the man she loves and a desperate dash through mid-town Manhattan traffic, calling the name of her just out of reach lover. It is romantic with a capital R, as wonderfully overdone as “Tristan und Isolde”, with characters entrusting their lives and loves to fate. There aren’t many tropes of the romantic genre that don’t show up on the screen but Patrick Chan keeps everything on this side (sometimes barely) of bathos.

“Comrades” takes place between 1986 and 1995. The coming handover to the PRC, the 1987 world wide stock market crash and the beginning of the AIDS crises are all part of the fabric of the movie. Before the market collapse Lee Kiu was convinced that “This is Hong Kong—anything is possible.” Afterwards she is frightened and tentative, saying that “I am scared. I don’t know what to do”. Broke, she goes to work in a massage parlor, a job of which she is ashamed. She meets Pao, a tough mid-level triad guy and impresses him because, unlike the others girls, only does massage. She says she is not afraid of Pao or anyone else—she is only afraid of rats.

Pao is played by Eric Tsang. David Bordwell mentions this in his excellent “Planet Hong Kong”. Since Tsang is known for his comic roles, his face is shown very briefly at first. We see his broad back covered with intricate tattoos and hear his voice, rough and abrupt when dealing with a subordinate, softer and wheedling with Lee. By the time Pao is fully introduced (now the Lee’s escort and apparent benefactor) we accept Tsang the comedian in a dramatic role. But since Tsang almost never plays a villain, the audience realizes that Pao, while a triad chieftain, is also a decent guy.

The second supporting character and fourth part of the rectangle is Siu Ting, Lai’s fiancee from the mainland. She is depicted by the gorgeous Kristy Cheung as a reticent woman who begins to blossom in Hong Kong. Siu is a trained dancer who assumes that because she doesn’t know anyone in her new home she won’t be able to use her training. Under Lee’s tutelage she opens a dance school and is busy and involved with it.

There are two inflection points involving both Lai and Lee and their partners. Pao has to get out of town quickly. He is on a boat going to Taiwan and Lee, accompanied by Lai, goes to see him one last time and tell him that she has fallen in love with another. She isn’t able to do so, deciding at the very last minute that she has to stick with Pao. Lai is left standing on a the dock in drenching rain waiting for her to return, then watching helplessly as the boat carrying both of them disappears into the storm. Lai then tells Siu that he is in love with Lee—she insists that they pack and leave that night for their old home in the Mainland where nothing like this could happen. She wants her old life back but Lai doesn’t.

Earlier in the movie there is an extremely effective and sexy love scene between Maggie (Lee) and Leon Lai (Lai). The two of them have taken refuge from a storm on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Lee has lost a lot of money, some borrowed from loansharks, in buying and trying to sell Teresa Tang recordings—but no one in Hong Kong wants them since she is identified so strongly with the Mainland. They are tired, wet and worried about the future. Lee gets ready to leave. Lai buttons her raincoat, then puts his coat over that one and buttons it. They are standing as close to each other as two humans can without embracing. Inevitably but clumsily they kiss and Lai is now fumbling to unfasten the buttons on the two coats. Both of them are hungry for the other—their desire is shown first in their steely reserve, then in their complete surrender to each other. Most Hollywood love/sex scenes are of the “is it over yet?” variety—there are only so many ways you can show two human beings coupling while not actually showing it. The built in limits of Hong Kong filmmaking force directors and actors to be more creative in showing how real people decide to make love. This, like many other scenes in “Comrades” is close to perfect.

Highly recommended

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 01/26/2003

One of Hong Kong's most touching genre films "Comrades, Almost a Love Story" has something to say diametric to many of its peers.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: xiaoka
Date: 01/20/2003
Summary: almost?

its one of those movies that is like an exercise in pain... "almost" a love story kept reverberating in my mind... not exactly great... not exactly bad... but laughs and interesting turns keep it from getting boring.

the most enjoyable part was definitely when clueless country bumpkin just gets to HK and is learning the ropes...

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 12/23/2002

I don't remember the last time I shed tears watching a HK movie, but "Comrades" did it.

Like every HK movie I have ever watched, "Comrades" starts off like a math lecture and its objective - to put viewers to sleep. As usual, once the characters develop, it gets more interesting. I cared about most of the characters presented, thanks to the excellent development.

As far as Leon Lai's acting, I thought it was mediocre. I never liked him, but I prefer his acting in "God of Gamblers 3" to that of "Comrades." HK dramas are still a few notches below the accomplishments of Mainland directors like Zhang Yi Mou, who at least won't use pop idols to play scared immigrants. Also, HK films never achieve the incredible sense of realism as Mainland movies. Alas, Maggie Cheung is wonderful as usual.

There's nothing particularly melodramatic here, but when they played Teresa's "Moon" song towards the end, all the bits of tearjerkers came together and did it for me. The ending is both satisfactory and clever.

In short, "Comrades" is a critic's favorite 'art' film that doesn't break any new grounds but is well made.


Reviewed by: Stardust
Date: 07/21/2002
Summary: Perfectly Fits The "Artistic Movie's" Requirements

Despite all the great reviews I've read on this movie and all the awards won, I have to admit that I disagree on some level. Don't get me wrong though, I don't hate this movie, but it's not a favorite either.

This movie was guaranteed to gain acceptance and awards since day one. Why I say so is due to both implicit and explicit reasons. Explicitly speaking, the acting by all were great. The storyline may be a bit exaggerated at times regarding the idea of fate, but there is a sense of realism with the struggles, failures, and goals that the characters go through. Most of all, the friendship/chemistry between Leon Lai and Maggie Cheung was believable.

Now comes the criticism. The implicit reasons why this movie was "so great" is due a coincidence and the fact that this movie held characteristics that fall perfectly under the label of "artistic work".

The coincidence: Honestly, Leon Lai isn't exactly a great actor. He is just lucky to find a role that parallels his real life in some ways (born in China, his lifestyle when growing up, adapting and gaining acceptance in HK, etc. By the way, he said these words himself in an interview). So I guess he did a good job playing himself. Without this coincidence, the chemistry wouldn't exist between him and Maggie and the movie would fall apart.

What is "artistic work"? In the HK movie industry, movies that are called artistic include Wong Kar Wai style, tragic or bittersweet endings, extended running time, gloomy moods, tears, pain, torture, death, etc. In this movie, there is a tragedy, tears, pain, death, gloomy mood, extended running time, and a bittersweet ending. See the resemblance? I have always been opposed to using these characteristics to describe "art". But once again, many of the movie's reviews and awards have continued to maintain their perspective that this, and only this, is art.

Overall, this movie is worth watching...just to see what the hype is all about. If you're like me who have a limited tolerance to the so-called "artistic movie", consider yourself warned on what exactly to expect.

Rating: 7.5/10

Spoiler Warning:

P.S. For those who watched the movie and agree with my review, here is a question for you:

Do you think Eric Tsang would win a supporting actor award if he didn't have the Mickey Mouse tattoo and didn't die?

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: rolandyu
Date: 04/16/2001
Summary: Lovable!

This movie is very special to me since it marked my "first real" encounter with HK Movies. This is also the first HK VCD that I bought. I am a big fans of Maggie Cheung and she surely plays great in this movie.

The story is basically simple, but the details and the way that Peter Chan visualised it are really the essence of this movie. I love all the twists, especially at the end of the movie. For me, that was the greatest ending I've ever seen.

The actors and actresses plays great, especially Leon and Maggie. Musics? Undoubtedly, Teresa Teng's songs are great. It's kinda oldy, but I appreciate her work very much. I think she is a real singer, compared to today's pop singer.

Overall, this is one of my best and favorite movies.


Reviewed by: wangshibo
Date: 09/22/2000
Summary: A gentle 'semi' love story

'Tian Mi Mi' (Mandarin), or 'honey-sweet' is the title of the most widely-recognised song by Teresa Tang (Deng Lijun), one of the first and finest Chinese pop singers. It is also the Chinese title of this film, where her music is used to mirror the trials and tribulations of no less than three sets of lovers (5 people in all). Maggie Cheung's performance is tender and carefully thought out, as is Lai's. Full marks also go to the actor playing the 'lao da' (boss) of a triad gang. Though the film is a little slow paced, it is intelligent and pulls the heart-strings in a more subtle way than might be expected, and the ending is a pure joy to watch. All in all, a must see for anyone who likes a little emotion, carefully prepared.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: hellboy
Date: 09/11/2000

Two mainlanders fall in love, one a naive wide-eyed country boy, the other a ambitious opportunist. The film follows the arrival and induction of Leon Lai's character to HK and his befriending of Maggie Cheung's character. The movie spans more than 10 years of their lives as they gradually acclimate themselves to becoming "Hongkies". CAALS's weakness is it's tendency to overdramaticize, but it's strength is in showing the viewer how coincidence conspires against people, but ultimately brings them together; how the love of our life may be someone you haven't even met yet. Cheung and Lai are terrific! A lot of the movie focuses on close-ups of them and their reactions, so this film could have easily been botched with bad performances. Maggie Cheung's expression as pushes her way through a crowd to find Eric Tsang's character has died is heartbreaking. If you liked Chungking Express watch this! Also the Teresa Tang song that's used a couple times in the movie (I dont' know the title) is very relevant to the story, lyrically speaking. Unfortunately the version I saw did not subtitle the song, hence the non-mandarin speaking viewer will lose a bit in the lack of translation. If you want to see the translation, the lyrics are subtitled in Prison on Fire. 8.5/10

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: toto63
Date: 07/17/2000
Summary: Romantic

I've loved this movie, not for the story who is too dull and obviuos, but for the love story only, that is great!

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 04/08/2000

The short review: great movie with some really bad music (I loved the Teresa Tang stuff but not the rest of the score). The story of this movie is the relationship between Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai, two mainlanders who come to Hong Kong seeking their fortunes. Maggie's character (Li Chiao) is quite a bit more savvy than Leon's country hick (Li Xiao-Jun) and when they initially meet, she takes advantage of him in her quest for money. Coming as no surprise to anyone, they fall in love. Of course, without any sort of adversity or conflict this story would be dull, and that conflict comes in the form of Li Xiao-Jun's girlfriend back home in the mainland, for whom he still has feelings. Yes, the plot is generic but in this case it is the quality of the execution that makes the film good.

This film spans several years and cities in the lives of the characters, constantly torturing the audience with Li Xiao-Jun and
Li Chiao's unfulfilled relationship. We want them to be together but there is always something getting in the way. The other
thing that tortures the audience is the soundtrack, which is really, really bad, with the exception of several Teresa Tang
songs. I really enjoyed these songs and they fit the mood of the movie quite well. The film has many references to Tang, who
died in the year before this movie was released. Unfortunately, the original music composed for the film is not nearly as
good. It was some of the worst, most over-melodramatic garbage I've heard in a long time. I had to force myself to ignore it
throughout the film. It takes a good scene with a lot of emotion and buries it under waves of sappiness. This is very
manipulative. Instead of letting the viewer feel what they feel just from the story, the music is used as an emotional club to
tell the viewer what they should be feeling. This sort of manipulation is a real problem with films, and is one of the reasons I
avoid watching films from Hollywood. Fortunately, this film manages to rise above this burden.

Maggie Cheung is amazing in her role. She has played the flower vase in many a film, which is a shame given her talent.
Leon Lai is decent but is generally overshadowed by Maggie. This film would have benefited from having someone with more
range in Leon's role, such as Takeshi Kaneshiro. He works well enough as a bemused hick but he could do a better job of
showing the pain his character is going through as his life becomes more complicated.

This film also has a really cool ending, which theoretically was intended as somewhat of a surprise, but which observant
viewers will not be shocked by. Nonetheless, it works well, bringing the film full circle. Watch it and then remember Maggie
Cheung's acting in the 80s. She's come a long way. This film was well-deserving of its many awards.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 01/16/2000

Very uneven, drags on too long, and has too much of the "gritty realism" look. On the upside, it has some wonderfully teary-eyed romantic moments, and Maggie & Leon are completely convincing as the two kindred souls buffeted together and apart by the whims of real life interference. Eric Tsang is also marvellous as Maggie's gangster sugar daddy. The one part of the story not clearly explained is how the key characters came to be in New York........ The strategic removal of at least thirty minutes of long boring bits would have helped much, and may even have brought it up to the standard of the stunning Love_And_The_City, with which comparisons are inevitable.

Overall : Watch it, but on video, and use judiciously the fast-forward button !

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: SUPERCOP
Date: 12/25/1999
Summary: Terrific.....

Both locally and internationally acclaimed, this Peter Chan Ho-sun project swept not only the 1996 Hong Kong Film Awards, but also received many prestigous trophies at various film festivals around the world. Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Leon Lai Ming star as mainland Chinese immigrants vying for success and prosperity in their new home in Hong Kong, only to develop a romance along the way. Excellent and superbly textured performance by a well rounded cast (including seasoned character actor Eric Tsang Chi-wai and heralded cinematographer Christopher Doyle), along with beautiful cinematography by Jingle Ma helps make this masterpiece the best Hong Kong production of 1996.

Rating: 9.5/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: kjohnson
Date: 12/09/1999

An excellent drama, filmed in a realistic art-movie style, about the relationship between two mainland immigrants in Hong Kong, with an underlying tribute to Taiwanese superstar singer Teresa Teng (the Chinese title "Teen Mut Mut" ("Like Sugar") is one of her songs). I was impressed by how well-made the movie was and throughout the showing kept thinking, "Why couldn't Peter Chan have done AGE OF MIRACLES this well?" Maggie is a joy to watch throughout the film. Christopher Doyle (Wong Kar Wai's cinematographer), is amusing in a small part as an English teacher. Lai Ming is quite effective as a clueless immigrant, but the later scenes where his character is supposed to develop would have benefited from someone with stronger acting skills. The ending is a bit of a surprise and very satisfying. The movie is something of a tear-jerker that left me feeling emotionally drained afterward.

Reviewed by: pablo
Date: 12/09/1999

March 1, 1986. Two mainland Chinese immigrants arrive in HongKong. Over the next ten years their lives will intersect while they chase their dreams. It's great to see Maggie in a leading role again after nearly three years away, and Leon holds up his end pretty well too. Peter Chan crafts a nice subtle (almost) love story, coloring it with lots of nostalgia (Teresa Teng is featured prominently) and his trademark camerawork, whimsical touches, and quaint locations. The end drags a bit, but the closing shot makes it worthwhile.

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

Tasteful, art-filmish romantic melodrama telling the story of Li Xiao-Jun (Leon Lai, who's surprisingly excellent), a newly emigrated mainlander who lives at his aunty's place (actually, a whorehouse); he's so new to HK that he doesn't even know how to queue up at MacDonald's, where enterprising Li Chiao (Maggie Cheung) happens to be working as a counter girl (!). Even though Xiao-Jun has a girlfriend back home he fully intends to marry, a romance develops with his new friend -- one of his few links with home. Things start going wrong when Xiao-Jun marries his ballet dancer girlfriend (Kristy Yeung), and Li Chiao takes up with a genial triad chief (Eric Tsang) -- developments which are eventually followed by estrangement and death. The catchy pop songs of the late Teresa Teng serve as a touchstone for our two refugees, a nostalgic link that helps bring them together in New York at film's end. HK cinematographer of choice Christopher Doyle gives the film a pleasing sepia look, and does a credible acting job as an English teacher whose girlfriend has AIDS.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 6