Comrades: Almost A Love Story – Review

comrades: Almost A Love Story - Review

Comrades: Almost A Love Story – Review. By Joe Muldoon.

So close, yet so far; fate has an oftentimes cruel sense of humour. In our story, two Chinese mainlanders migrate to Hong Kong, and their lives undergo a series of intertwinings and severings, their paths crossing and departing. Li Xiao-Jun (Leon Lai) is a naive northerner, and Li Qiao (Maggie Cheung) is a hustling southerner, and the two are brought together as they combat the loneliness of being outsiders in a large city. Their aspirations are very different, with Li Xiao-Jun aiming to bring his fiancé to Hong Kong and Qiao seeking to gain great wealth, and so they find themselves unable to be together.

When Li Xiao-Jun’s fiancé XiaoTing Li (Kristy Yeung) arrives in Hong Kong, the two wed, and Li Qiao enters a relationship with gangster Pao Au-Yeung (Eric Tsang). Though the mainlanders live separate lives, they find that their feelings remain the same, however hard they try to suppress and ignore them. Very fittingly, Taiwanese pop icon Teresa Teng’s Tián Mì Mì permeates the picture, serenading the audience, and acting as a minor plot point. “Wherever there are Chinese-speaking people, there is the music of Teresa Teng”, goes the popular phrase – even when separated, the lovers are united through her music.

Director Peter Ho-Sun Chan’s picture is beautiful and saddening in equal measures. With a cast so immensely beloved by Hong Kong cinemagoers, Chan could have easily leant towards audience-pleasing melodramaticism, with a great degree of success. Few other directors have the discipline to resist the urge to fight fate. Instead, he opted to imbue within the film an ever-present underbelly of loneliness, heartache, and yearning. Even when living their own separate lives, the ill-fated lovers’ paths unwittingly cross, often cruelly close.

Distinctly Hongkongese and arguably one of the greatest romances of all time, Comrades: Almost A Love Story is a masterclass in filmmaking and storytelling. With heavyweights Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai (who is best-known as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Cantopop) delivering almost career-best performances, the bedrock for brilliance is laid with ease. Greatly helping them along in particular are Eric Tsang and Kristy Yeung, who play the tragic third wheels wonderfully.

Especially pleasing for fans of Hong Kong cinema is the inclusion of Christopher Doyle, longtime Wong Kar-wei collaborator, who has a small role as Jeremy, the easygoing immigrant who teaches English to locals. Though not a film you would typically want to watch on a first date, the tragic beauty of Comrades: Almost A Love Story is undeniable, a tale of love that is to be, and not to be.

By Joe Muldoon.

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