Finally fulfilling the promise of his and Eric Tsang’s UFO studio (one of only a handful of independent film studios in Hong KongÖever) Peter Chan manages to direct a movie that takes a real group of rather disenfranchised and misrepresented people and deliver a thoughtful, humanistic romantic comedy about them. He acquits himself well, but it is screen goddess Maggie Cheung who delivers a great seriocomic turn here. She is joined by a surprisingly capable Leon Lai, who is miles from his normal type of wooden film performance here. Lai is animated, even subtle in his part, and his innocent character becomes the perfect foil for Maggie’s hard-edged entrepeneur.
The film follows the two of them as they emigrate from communist China in the 70s (?) to Hong Kong, meet each other, and then, over a period of about 10 or 15 years, try very hard not to fall in love with each other. This is imperative for both of them, since Leon is working to bring his fiance over from the mainland so they can be married, and Maggie is intent on grasping financial independence by the horns. But imperative though it may be, they just can’t stop themselves.
“What is this?” I asked the owner of my local Hong Kong video outlet.
“Oh. It’s ‘Comrades, Almost a Love Story,'” he says.
“Well, yeah, but what is it?” I ask again. This is back when it was new.
He sighs with regret.
“It’s a love story,” he shrugs as he walks away.
In spite of that kind of taciturn hand-off (he is more of a martial arts fan), Comrades is, in fact, a very clever, sweet, and thoroughly appealing seriocomedy, packed with a wonderful air of romanticism. It’s the kind of movie where everything is done with more than just a servicable turn: in this movie, everyone seems to work a little extra-hard to make sure that the resulting film comes out right. And it’s very clear when you’re watching the film that that care has been put into it—you leave the theater with a positive, upbeat feeling. It is, for once, a tolerably sentimental film that lets you feel good about romance.