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.


In the Mood for Love is, of course, much more than the sum total of the writing and acting performances. But if Cheung and Tony Leung are not perfect- the spell of the film may wear off which could undercut the film.


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.



from Hero– the exposition is minimal (which makes this feel like poetry as much as prose) and the dialogue is simple, so it helps to have some of the best actors in the world circa 2002 (especially Tony Leung and Cheung) to portray complex emotions as efficiently as possible. These two in particular, are able to ooze action star cool one minute, and profound sensitivity the next.

WKW would come to be known for his unfulfilled love stories, ennui- and that is really the Maggie Cheung portion here (As Tears Go By)- the best section of the film.



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.



Cheung’s first portrayal of her Su Li-zhen character- from Days of Being Wild- the film that really started it all for WKW



top five performances:

  1. In the Mood for Love
  2. Hero
  3. Days of Being Wild
  4. Irma Vep
  5. As Tears Go By




archiveable films

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
2002- Hero
2004- 2046