What more do i need to say about this film that hasn’t been spoken before. All I can say is that I am thankful to witness this film again on the big screen, even if it is 16 years too late. In creating “Comrades Almost a Love Story” (“Comrades”), director Peter Chan has not only produced a great local romantic drama, but a timeless romantic masterpiece for generations ahead. It is in this film, that Maggie Cheung finally showed her true colours of a maturing actress. There are countless moments in “Comrades” that would go on to become iconic cinematic scenes that defines Hong Kong cinema. Such as the bike scene when Leon proclaims that “I have a car” and go on and show Maggie a bike. She smartly responded “In Hong Kong, a bike is not a car”. The film deals with many issues still of relevance today, namely the cultural differences of mainlanders living in Hong Kong, sex, belonging, and friendship and possibly love. It must be complimented of the amount of details Chan goes into portraying Hong Kong in different decades. It is perhaps due to the details and character’s depth that Chan loves to focus on, which ultimately made “Comrades”, one of Hong Kong’s most important film of all-time.
As mentioned before, Maggie Cheung was truly amazing. Cheung was the shining light and it was her not Leon Lai that carry the film on her strong shoulders. In a complete and well-rounded award winning performance, Cheung is able to portray a complicated character that changes through time and experiences. The manner in which she is able to communicate her emotions is extremely noteworthy. The scene when Cheung is in the car and Leon walks back and kiss her remains one of the most powerful scene that is about to connect and leave a lasting impression on the audience. For Leon Lai, it is really more of the same. Credit should be given to Peter Chan for not requiring Lai to act and made the most out of his expressionless face. However, the key ingredient is most definitely the radiating chemistry between the duo that makes the film so believable and relatable. The film is also ably supported by the ever beautiful Kristy Yeung and the scene stealing Eric Tsang as the good hearted, triad boss. Tsang simply made this character his very own. In the boat scene, when Maggie confronts Eric about their relationship, he calmly said: “There are plenty of men, once you step outside this door”. It is a kind of unconditional love, that Eric made the scene both bittersweet and romantic at the same time.
All in all, “Comrades” is not just another 90s romantic classic, but rather a timeless tale of Hong Kong through the years of change. In making “Comrades”, Chan has created something more than special, in actual fact – a masterpiece. So catch it, before you regret it! If two words can sum up this flick – simply romantic…
“Love Letter: Dearest, Do you know how much in love with you I am? Did I trip? Did I stumble – lose my balance, graze my knee, graze my heart? I know I’m in love when I see you. I know when I long to see you, I’m on fire. Not a muscle has moved. Leaves hang unruffled by any breeze. The air is still. I have fallen in love without taking a step. You are all wrong for me and I know it, but I can no longer care for my thoughts unless they are thoughts of you. When I am close to you, I feel your hair brush my cheek when it does not. I look away from you sometimes, then I look back. When I tie my shoes, when I peel an orange, when I drive my car, when I lie down each night without you, I remain, Yours”
Peter Chan’s first venture into Hollywood was a massive cultural barrier. Not unlike, Wong Kar Wai’s poorly executed, but well meaning “My Blueberry Night”, the premise seems very much Korean and the idea of a love letter creating multiple opportunities of love is more corny and cheesy than believable. Seriously if you see an untitled love letter randomly on a table at someone’s else home, it is very likely that you will take it seriously to heart and take it as a piece of salt instead. The answer is clear and the whole idea is flawed from the beginning. Here is how Chan works his magic on the audience and trick us to believe and takes us along the ride in a somewhat light hearted and slightly heart-warming view of nothing else than love.
In one of Kate Capshaw’s final on-screen display, she is ably casted as a single middle aged woman trying to find love again despite the odds. In fact the film would not have been watchable if not for Capshaw’s performance and Chan’s persistent style of direction. I have always called Chan a romantic director as he goes for the depth of characters and their stories in unprecedented details. Unfortunately, in this film, Chan is clearly lost in translation and it’s a definite shame.
All in all, like most Asian directors cutting it out in the golden mountain of Hollywood, Chan is unable to replicate his best works. No matter how you see this film from whatever angle, for a Hollywood movie it is just too corny to connect with the Western audience and for the Asian audience we have seen too many Comrades, Alan and Eric and countless better cinematic experience. Still, Chan did not fully fail as some fun can still be had, except by his standards, this is an epic fail by all proportions….
“In these 10 years, is it the Pacific Ocean that separates the three of us, or is it our own wrong views of friendship. People are meant to be looking forward, but my heart keeps looking back…” – Alan Tam
One of my favourite moments at the 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival, must be the screenings of many of Peter Chan Ho Sun’s classic hits. Having watched Alan And Eric: Between Hello And Goodbye years ago, it is most certainly of my utmost pleasure to revisit it again and on the big screen. Although the film may not be as polished as director Chan’s later works, the key signature and flares are there to be seen. The amount of details Chan goes into creating and exploring these characters, relationships and the key ingredients of friendship is as evident here as his later works. Chan loves to stress on the value of friendship and brotherhood and not unlike Warlords, the male bonding duo of the amazingly subdued Eric Tsang and the then youthful Alan Tam is simply undeniably amazing to watch. The chemistry between the two exceeds that of the love triangle that involved the beautiful Maggie Cheung and that’s some powerful stuff.
Of the three, Eric Tsang stands out heads and shoulders above Tam and Cheung. Tsang despite his miniature statue is able to hit the right notes and play out a difficult and conflicted character that pretty carries the film from start to finish. His ability to sacrifice his love for Tam is heart-warming and the platonic friendship between Maggie and Eric is extremely believable and involving. However the key ingredient to this film is most certainly the brotherhood of Alan and Eric. Just reviewing this film right now, I am reminded of the regrets and feelings that Chan is able to transcend to the audience in the emotional finale quadrant of the film. Likewise, Alan does a professional job in his role and performs naturally and Maggie Cheung is steadfast without being stunning.
All in all, Alan And Eric: Between Hello And Goodbye is a wonderful example of early 90s Hong Kong Golden Cinema. It may lack the sleek and polish productions of Chan’s later works, but all the ingredients are there. There isn’t really much to dislike about this film and viewing it more than 20 years, the issues of friendship, bonding and lifelong friends are still as relevant as ever. Perhaps, Chan took a bit of a short-cut in creating a terminal illness finale, but for what it is worth; Alan And Eric is really a fine film to boot. As for Eric Tsang, what more can you say, even if you didn’t win the girl, you bloody won the audience’s heart…
Neo rates it 8.5/10
P.S. Alan Tam also sings one of my all time favourite song – 一生中最愛
Writing about Asian and World cinema since 2004 (Member of Film Critic Circle of Australia and Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts)