best film: In the Mood for Love is a massive achievement for Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung and of course, WKW. The two leads are utterly brilliant, and this is the clearly crowning achievement in their illustrious careers. Their characters are dense- they love each other, and it is an earned love, but they are also hurting from their failing marriages. The film’s form is as good or better than any film in cinema history—it may be my go-to example now when discussing film form—along with Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Ozu and Tokyo Story, and the combined oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch. In the Mood for Love is an amalgamation of Greenaway’s stylistic maximums and Jarmusch’s repetition.
best performance: Maggie Cheung’s best performance is In the Mood for Love– and it is not close. Every great actor would love to star, and be this good, in a masterpiece like this- yet of course very few actors (even the great ones) are this strong in films of this quality. WKW gives Cheung plenty of actor-friend close-ups and her Su Li-zhen/Mrs. Chan character leans into Cheung’s strengths as a gifted, subtle actor- with layers- a character with subtext.
stylistic innovations/traits: Cheung is a tremendously gifted actor who specializes in characters with heavy thoughts and introspection. She burst onto the blossoming Honk Kong cinema scene in the 1980s and did most of her quality work at a young age. She has been quiet since Hero in 2002 (at just the relatively young age of 38) with just five roles in the last twenty (20) years (including basically a two-minute performance in 2046 closing out the Su Li-Zhen character from Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love). Her depth of filmography may not warrant her spot on this list- but few actors of either sex have a In the Mood for Love performance on their resume. Though she is not on screen for much of the running time- she is a standout in Hero and that is simply one of the best films of the 21st century. Though she does not deserve much credit for her work in 2046, Cheung, even working very sparingly, is in three of the best films of the 2000s.
directors worked with: WKW (5). Being WKW’s main female muse has served Cheung well but she has proved with her work with Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep) and Yimou Zhang (Hero) and even Jackie Chan (2) that she would have had a fine career (though likely not on this list) even without the Hong Kong master.
top five performances:
- In the Mood for Love
- Days of Being Wild
- Irma Vep
- As Tears Go By
|1985- Police Story|
|1988- As Tears Go By|
|1988- Police Story 2|
|1990- Days of Being Wild|
|1994- Ashes of Time|
|1996- Irma Vep|
|2000- In the Mood for Love|
I’m the last person who’ll any problem with any kind of praise for Maggie Cheung but
Don’t you think Emily Watson’s top 2 (Breaking the Waves/ Punch- Drunk Love) is better?
@M*A*S*H- Yep, that is certainly the strength of the case for Emily Watson. But based on that- Watson may be top five on this list- and she is not top five. I looked long and hard at her and another ten to twelve actors for this spot.
Glad these pages are still slowly but steadily rolling out.
@Harry- Haha thanks Harry. The plan is to hopefully start picking up the pace a little.
When will Julie Christie show up 😒😒😒
Is she out of the list? ☹️☹️
I would add her role in clean (2004) to the achievable film list , probably in her top five performances.
@marco- that’s a good add. I have seen the film- and just did not archive it at the time so it is not on this list. But I’d be up for a revisit.
One film of hers I’d definitely recommend checking out if you haven’t already is Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage. She definitely gives a top 5 performance in that film, and I consider the film a MS. Although it has been a while and I’m due for a rewatch.
@Bob- Thank you for the recommendation. I see it is streaming on criterion.
You should look at Comrades Almost A Love Story. A top 5 performance for Maggie and one of the best for 1996.
It sure took long for Maggie to catch up with Gong Li. Thanks to the increase in recognition for Wong and Olivier’s work over the years. And In The Mood For Love just hit no.5 on S&S’s list.