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Chinese Box

Jeremy Irons , Li Gong , Wayne Wang    R (Restricted)   VHS Tape
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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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 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

Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Bawko
Format:VHS Tape
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.
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By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
I like this film for it's brilliant depiction of the city of Hong Kong. Visually, it's a treat for the eyes. A great depiction of the city by a director who grew up there before making it in the First World (the dream of all talented Hong Kong Chinese is to get out of Hong Kong). Here is both the busy British Colony and the tragic Chinese refugee centre in clear, sharp focus. Not the tourist bureau image, but the Hong Kong seen by a Chinese with the confidence to show it all. Here are the miles of shabby forty-story concrete tower blocks, the rude public behaviour, the jeering "older" refugees making fun of the newer arrivals from China, here's the polluted water, the giant rats in the poor quarters, here are all those drink-sodden western "remittance men" businessmen, and there's the crass world of Chinese property developers (the not- exactly-stylish-basis of Hong Kong's wealth). Here's the Chinese refugee girl who speaks terrible English (brilliantly played by Gong Li) here are her rude fellow refugees jeering at her for her wrong-side-of-the-tracks accent. The abysmal public behaviour that Hong Kong is so (in)famous for is well-captured by Wang - parts of the film look like a movie version of Bo Yang's book *The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis in Chinese Culture,* which so many expats read to help understand the things that cause them culture shock in Hong Kong - here, visually, is a depiction of that utter insecurity that is so strong in a place overwhelmed by millions of Chinese refugees in the last several decades.
Brilliant how Wang captures the rude bluntness of life in a city whose effervesence is the frantic rush of desperate folk trying to survive, having escaped from China.
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4.0 out of 5 stars misunderstood July 17 2002
By hbotis
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars A Travesty
Once again, Wayne Wang is a disappointment. As a third-generation Chinese American woman, I can't fathom how a fellow Chinese American can create such stereotypical films such as... Read more
Published on April 24 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars A Fan of Both Irons and Ruben Blades, But "CB" Was the PITS!
I watched about the first excruciating half hour and then gave up. I am glad I did not get to the scenes of animal cruelty that some reviewers here made reference to -- then it... Read more
Published on Feb. 18 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars A real shame to put Gong Li in this predicament
'Chinese Box' attracted me through a fairly interesting looking trailer. I couldn't have been more disappointed with the movie itself. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2003 by Andy Orrock
4.0 out of 5 stars Stuck in the middle
Chinese box is a very interesting film. First of all a Wayne Wang film (remember eat a bowl of rice ? Read more
Published on July 10 2002 by Kuroneko1
3.0 out of 5 stars a place called home
I watched this film by "accident." One night I turned on the TV and "The Chinese Box" movie was on. I watched it because it is a film about Hong Kong. Read more
Published on June 8 2002 by Anna Ching-Yu Wong
1.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious pretentious pretentious!
What is up with Chinese-American directors? While their cousins across the Pacific--John Woo, Ang Lee--are making masterpieces, Chinese-Americans like Wayne Wang are churning out... Read more
Published on Jan. 18 2001 by R. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Earle's review.
A pleasant surprise. I would recommend it to anyone who looks elsewhere than "blockbusters" for entertainment. Read more
Published on Jan. 13 2001 by earle richmond
2.0 out of 5 stars A Interesting Failure of a Film!
The idea was there. A film about the change over of Hong Kong from British to PRC rule. The casting was there too. Jeremy Irons, Gong-Li, and Maggie Cheung. Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2000 by Crossfit Len
4.0 out of 5 stars The Box has magical powers...
I have to say I fell for Gong Li in this film. This is not Shakespeare in love, this is Jermery Irons in love and hate. Read more
Published on April 29 2000 by Z Medina
2.0 out of 5 stars Culture Shock
Wayne Wang is just an embarrasement to "Chinese" film-makers.
The overall story of Chinese Box is a love-story wrapped around the Chinese and English cultural... Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2000 by "mr_minh"
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