Anita Mui

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Media Review by most recent date sequence. 傳媒影評依照日期排列

Midnight Fly (Cantonese) 

Review by: Paul Fonoroff

 Starring : Anita Mui, Junna Risa

 Director : Jacob Cheung

 Category IIA  

 

 That Anita Mui is one of the most watch able actresses in Hong Kong movies is clearly evident in Midnight Fly, a far-fetched melodrama in which she manages to deliver a highly convincing performance. Director Jacob Cheung has taken his cameras to France and Morocco for one of the year's more unusual films, involving as it does two women and no special effects. Despite the implausibility's in Tang Chi-chun's script, the friendship between the two stars is compelling enough to make Midnight Fly frequently absorbing though ultimately ludicrous.

 Mui's friend is Japanese actress Junna Risa, who matches her Hong Kong counterpart in histrionic appeal. They are, respectively, Michele and Miki, two strangers in a French tour group who develop a friendship that becomes a matter of life and death. Pertinent plot points will not be revealed here, but the scenario's twists and turns make the winding kasbah alleyways appear straight by comparison.

 Midnight Fly (whose title comes from Miki's favourite perfume) works best when focusing on the two ladies and their burgeoning camaraderie. Both are traveling as an escape from deteriorating relationships, and the development of their bond is done naturally and with genuine feeling.

 Unfortunately, though, Cheung's immaturity as a director (see the unbearably sentimental The Kid or Never Say Goodbye) shines through, with faux arty touches like a flute player at a train station and shadows on the ceiling when the friends are dancing together. And none of that is as bad as the ridiculous, daytime-TV style twists in the plot that keep it together.

 But then there's Mui, who has been appearing in far too few films of late. Midnight Fly is only her third picture since the handover, and her best role since Eighteen Springs (1997), another movie in which she was better than her material. Midnight Fly is a good showcase for Mui's thespian talent, but we still wait for the script that will do her talent justice.

 Midnight Fly is screening on the Broadway circuit.

  

Midnight Fly (Cantonese)  

Tug of love

 In his latest film, Midnight Fly, director Jacob Cheung Chi-Leung contemplates the mechanics of attraction and conflict between women, writes Winnie Chung

 MERYL STREEP ONCE said that the words 'I love you' were really a question.

 Many have contemplated the gist of this affirmation and award-winning film director Jacob Cheung Chi-leung is no different. He has examined the deeper meaning of that all-important four-letter word for years, as his productions Cage Men (1992), The Intimates (1997) and The Kid (1999) all show. The director is still enthralled by the subject, which is why he made Midnight Fly, which opens in Hong Kong on July 12.

 'Love,' Cheung says, 'is still something I am learning about; learning how to interpret that word 'love' between friends, between homosexuals or heterosexuals. It's a very integral part of our lives and I am still looking at what that feeling is. Once I have found my answer, maybe I will move on to other topics.'

 Like The Intimates, the predominantly English-language Midnight Fly delves into relationships between women. Disillusioned with her marriage and her husband, Michelle (Anita Mui Yim-Fong) takes a holiday alone in Europe. While on tour, the moody Michelle meets and rather unwillingly befriends a Japanese tourist, Miki (Junna Risa). The pair are drawn together by an inherent sadness over a man - Michelle over her inattentive husband, and Miki over her married lover - until the former realises that they are both agonising over the same man (Simon Yam Tat-Wah).

 Before their confrontation is resolved, however, Miki is kidnapped by slave-traders in Morocco and Michelle is torn between saving her friend or allowing her husband's lover to disappear conveniently from their lives. 'I think it is a very human thing,' Cheung says. 'When you don't know the third party, it is easy to hate that person, but if you understand the pain the other person is in, you might be able to forgive that person.'

 The idea for the movie came from some real-life horror stories Cheung and his scriptwriter, Tang Chi-Chum, had heard from friends. 'Tang had a friend whose friend went into a changing-room to try on a dress in a shop in Italy and was never seen again and even [actress] Pauline Wong Siu-Fung had a friend who also disappeared mysteriously in Italy,' recalls the 42-year-old film-maker.

 Cheung says his latest work is an extension of what he had wanted to do since he finished The Intimates, a movie about the lives of Suzhou 'comb girls' who took a vow of sisterhood and celibacy enforced by the threat of death.

 'When I started on Midnight Fly I had actually wanted to make a lesbian movie,' Cheung says. 'I touched upon that in The Intimates and I felt that hadn't been enough for me. That was filmed in China and there were too many limitations and it was therefore too subtle. I'd wanted it to be more daring but couldn't do it for various reasons. The two stars [Charlie Young Choi-Nei and Carina Lau Ka-ling] were also very conservative.

 'That was why I cast a Japanese actress for Midnight Fly. I thought she would be uninhibited enough to deliver the emotions that I needed for a more passionate tale. But, unfortunately, Junna Risa turned out to be very conservative as well, so I had to change the script. I realised also that I really didn't need to make a lesbian movie to be able to tell the story I wanted to tell. It's not just men who bond, women do too.'

 Cheung has been pegged as an actor's director and a film-maker of intimate relationship dramas. He started his career in 1979, as a trainee in TVB's Artist Training Class, with the likes of Andy Lau Tak-wah and Tony Leung Kar-fai. Although he graduated, his 'everyday' looks held him back in an industry that likes 'tall, dark and handsome' leading men.

 On the advice of some colleagues, he switched to directing and debuted with Last Eunuch In China in 1988. His second movie, Beyond The Sunset (1989), highlighted the wisdom of his career move when it won Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Cecilia Yip Tung) at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Cheung followed up this success three years later with Cage Men, an evocative look at the plight of Hong Kong's poor, which won four Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Film and Best Director.

 Ironically, the $14 million Midnight Fly cannot be categorised as a 'Hong Kong movie'. Its international settings, cast and crew have given the production a more cosmopolitan flavour than most other local films. Mui and Risa, who both appear in the Japanese drama Love Generation on TVB Jade on Sunday nights, converse in English throughout the movie and the film's only Cantonese lines are snatches of conversation between Mui's character, Yam's and a young rogue in Morocco (Shaun Tam).

 Mui's agreement to act in English is a feather in Cheung's cap as the actress has been known to turn down interviews in the language. 'I had to persuade her for a long time,' says the director, with a laugh. 'In the end, I assured her that if she was not happy with it, we'd dub everything back in Cantonese. I also told her she didn't have to worry about grammar and pronunciation because that would only stilt her acting. At first she insisted on getting it dubbed into Cantonese, but after she saw the early cuts, she thought it was OK.'

 Cheung says films cannot be labeled 'as international or not international any more'. After all, 'love is an international subject. How do you define 'international'? Look at [Fruit Chan's] Little Cheung. People view it as very Hong Kong, yet it's that local flavour that gives it international appeal,' Cheung says.

 'If you look at the history of Hong Kong films, there are very few films that are actually 'Hong Kong'. We've been copying and adapting from other cultures all along and we're still learning. There isn't much identity, mainly because we have no nationalistic pride or a culture that's truly our own.

 'In future, I think our movies will become even closer to mainland Chinese ones because that is the only way to survive. The question is how to make it more universal so that others can relate to it as well?'

 The director hopes to broaden his subject matter to a three-letter word: war. Two years ago, Cheung received the North Korean Government's approval to shoot the tentatively titled Mak Gong, an epic tale of a disciple of the pacifist Mo Zu, who defends his small homeland from invasion. Set in the period between 403BC and 221BC, the film was to have been adapted from a Japanese comic book Cheung read about five years ago. The project, however, had to be shelved because of a lack of funding, despite the North Korean Government's agreement to loan 200,000 soldiers as extras.

 'There was some investment from Korea but no one else dared to invest in movies at the time,' Cheung says. 'But I've always really wanted to make a war picture. One possible story I am looking at is the story of Yu Fei, the famous general. I think it would be fascinating to delve into the issues of loyalty and honour. As a soldier, who do you serve? Your emperor or your country?'

 Cheung's ultimate aim? 'I want to build a Walt Disney world and make films for children. Children don't really have much to watch these days,' says the father of an 11-year-old girl and six-year-old boy. 'But there's also so much we can teach them in moral values using the medium of film. The Chinese have got lots of fairy tales that we can make movies about; stories which are fun and yet have an educational value.'

 Midnight Fly opens on July 12 2001

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