Sausalito

I was really looking forward to this film for a few reasons. First of all, this is Maggie Cheung’s first appearance in a HK film since “The Soong Sisters” in 1997 and she has been missed by not only her many fans, but also an industry that badly needs her talent and glamour. Her international films are fine, but it just isn’t the same as having Maggie in a HK production. Secondly, she has been teamed up once again with Leon Lai. The two of them played hit and miss lovers in the film “Comrades, Almost a Love Story” that is considered by many to be the finest romantic HK film ever made. So the anticipation for this film was great, but sadly it falls very much short of my hopes and expectations.

There is very little that rings true in this film – the love story feels totally manufactured, the lives of the characters have no depth and most of the roles feel badly miscast. Leon Lai as a driven Internet entrepreneur, Eric Kot as Leon’s financial wizard and Valerie Chow as a CEO of a large corporation struck me as poor choices.

Maggie and Valerie Chow
Leon can be fine in a role that doesn’t call for much in terms of acting range - where he can get by with his quiet, shy and restrained persona. This worked wonderfully well in Comrades and A Hero Never Dies – but here he is a wealthy Internet entrepreneur and his extremely low-key emotionless performance felt out of balance and it generated no energy and no passion. The chemistry between him and Maggie is non-existent. If the film didn’t tell us they were in love, I would never have guessed. Eric Kot does . . . Eric Kot – his usual overly manic on-speed driven character. In certain films this can be slightly amusing – but here he feels like someone from another movie. Valerie Chow – who had small but terrific parts in The Blade and Chungking Express – also returns to HK cinema after devoting the last few years to developing a Hollywood career under the stage name of Rachel Shane. Through no fault of her own, her role as a man eating CEO is simply absurd and silly.
Director Andrew Lau (Young and Dangerous, A Man Called Hero) makes this film look and feel like a ninety-minute Hallmark commercial – full of bright sunny days, glossy cinematography, continuous treacly pop songs that cue you in as to how to feel and finally sentiments as plastic and phony as a counterfeit credit card. The film is a love story built on nothing more than a wisp of a commercial idea with no apparent reason for being other than bringing about a surely much awaited screen reunion. This is a film with no rough edges, no heartbeat, no blood pulsing through its veins – just a very pretty postcard from Sausalito.

The film takes place in San Francisco. It’s difficult to understand exactly why though besides having an opportunity to shoot some lovely scenes of the Golden Gate Bridge and the beautiful houses on the hills. One might think that if you were going to take on the trouble and expense of producing a film in the United States, the writers might want to integrate some aspects of American culture into the story line or perhaps have something to say about the Asian immigrant experience in America. But this film may as well have been shot in HK for all it has to say about this. All the characters are Chinese and there is no interaction with non-Chinese in the film (except when an overweight gweilo wanker tries to sleep with Maggie in as false a scene as one can imagine). At the same time though, there does not appear to be anything inherently Chinese about the characters and they felt interchangeable with ones that could have been played by Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock. This film in fact feels like dross that Hollywood can churn out by the boat load. One has to wonder whether Lau wanted to film in California so that he could make some Hollywood contacts.

In terms of the story such as it is - Leon has developed this Internet company – a search engine of some kind (as if the world needs another search engine!) – and a large corporation headed by Valerie has offered fifty million dollars to take it over. Leon’s company is deeply in debt, but he doesn’t want to sell. Maggie is a taxi driving single mom with a ten-year-old boy. The boy is a celluloid dream  - always smiling, supportive of his mother’s romantic and physical needs and not at all put out by a mother never bothering to tell him that she is spending the night away from home. Only in the movies.

Maggie also paints outdoor murals and comes across Leon late one night urinating on one of them. They of course end up having sex in the cab until the morning. Leon is a free spirit though – has never even told a woman “sorry” until he meets Maggie – and wants no commitments in his life. When Maggie buys him a frying pan, Leon drives all over San Francisco until he finally spots her taxicab and returns it to her. Give me a break. The film is filled with idiotic scenes like this that I guess Lau thinks are dramatic or romantic – but one just sits there and thinks how stupid was that.

Love develops – doesn’t it always in this kind of movie  - even if there is no apparent reason why - besides Maggie wanting to perhaps live in a beautiful house in Sausalito and Leon needing someone to cook and care for him. But he is receiving lots of pressure from Valerie to sell his company – and he gets all sullen and snappy with Maggie and the kid. Such melodrama! Oh, but Leon is so very dull – even with all that money I feel sorry for any woman spending more than a night with him.

So there are the usual ups and downs – a ridiculous Valerie Chow seduction scene that I thought was the low point of the film until Maggie is chased down the street by Nirvanites (an Internet cult community) with flowers beseeching her to forgive Leon. Just embarrassing.

This is a love story. The whole purpose of this film is to make the audience care about what happens to these two people – to root for them to eventually get together. By the end of the film, I was so hoping Maggie would kick this sorry assed selfish ego driven dullard right out of her life.

The performances of Maggie and a few of the supporting actors are really all I can find positive to say about this film. Maggie somehow manages to hold her head above water even when weighted down with an insipid script that could sink a battleship. Though her character acts in ways that seem unmotivated or out of synch – and even if she can’t raise a sign of life out of Leon – she is still very good. She feels and looks and acts like a real person – multi-dimensional and interesting. She never over plays the character or tries to create false melodrama. She really becomes this fairly ordinary single mother. After a while, you almost forget that you are watching Maggie Cheung. Not that she doesn’t still look wonderful – but she does nothing in this film to try and glamorize herself – she is just a hard working mother.

It should also be noted that two supporting roles are filled out nicely. Richard Ng famous for his loony roles in many comedies of the 1980’s – the Lucky Star series perhaps being the most prominent – had retired from HK films as well – but returns to turn in a sweet performance as an elderly gay gentleman. And Suki Kwan who plays Maggie’s best friend is excellent as well. But both roles are too small to really affect the film.

Suki Kwan
I really wanted to like this film – but I just couldn’t. Andrew Lau continues his blanding of the HK film scene. Oh, where is Peter Chan (director of Comrades) when you need him?

My rating for this film: 5.0


Pictures are from promotion tour - not the film.