Sammi Cheng

Fighting for Love (2001, Joe Ma)

Watching Fighting for Love is frustrating. Rapid-fire dialogue–straight out of a Howard Hawks comedy–is difficult to get in subtitles, especially poorly translated ones. Still, the charm of the actors comes through and Fighting for Love is probably the best mediocre romantic comedy I’ve seen in a long time, at least of the recently-made (since 1998) ones. I initially queued the film right after I saw Yesterday Once More and went through Netflix for other Sammi Cheng films. Since Yesterday tried to be serious, it didn’t offer the best precedent for Cheng. She’s charming and funny and touching in a way we don’t have right now in American cinema. As goofy as Fighting for Love gets, Cheng is never otherworldly. Her problems are never two-dimensional, on celluloid. The problem could be–I don’t really think it is, but I’m acknowledging the possibility–with American female actors, we’re a little too aware of their reality and can’t disconnect enough to connect with their films….

Once I had queued Fighting for Love, I realized the Tony Leung it starred. There are two Tony Leungs, Chiu Wai and Ka Fai. I don’t know who had the name first (and I’m too lazy to look it up). Chiu Wai, who appears in Fighting for Love, is the Tony Leung from In the Mood for Love and 2046 and Hard-Boiled. I’m a Tony Leung fan and so I was looking forward to the film. While he’s older than Cheng, their age difference doesn’t really affect the film. He does look rather silly surrounded by all the much younger actors playing his siblings, but I let it pass. The story’s a general romantic triangle (his girlfriend’s out of town and they have to fall in love while she’s gone, yada yada yada). It doesn’t matter. It’s a romantic comedy, the predictability isn’t an issue. There are some nice moments between Leung and Cheng and funny ones too and those scenes are what romantic comedies are about.

The most particular thing about the film–and I wasn’t expecting it–was the quality improvement throughout the second half. It didn’t do anything particularly special, it just laid on those nice scenes. By the end of the film–where, of course, there was a final cute joke–the varnish was nice and shiny.



Directed by Joe Ma; written by Ma, Chow Yin Han and Lam Oi Wah; edited by Cheung Ka-Fai; produced by Carl Chang; released by Film Power Company.

Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Veg Cheung), Sammi Cheng (Deborah), Niki Chow (Mindy), Joe Lee (Camel) and Li Fung (Deborah’s mom).

Yesterday Once More (2004, Johnnie To)

The event romantic comedy is a familiar genre, but not one with frequent entries. With the exception of Julia Roberts (and maybe Sandra Bullock), the genre in American cinema does not exist anymore. The hardships of making these films is finding a project the stars jibe with–I mean, people actually like Runaway Bride. Two Weeks Notice, which I thought was a huge bomb, was actually a hit. It’s just a hard genre because these films are about the audience’s affection for the actor, not the character she’s playing. I say “she,” of course, because there isn’t–currently–a male event romantic comedy star. Though Hugh Grant tries, it only works when Julia Roberts is part of the equation.

Yesterday Once More is a Hong Kong event romantic comedy, pairing Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng as a pair of divorced (but still, of course, in love) professional thieves. As I understand it from my cursory research, Lau and Cheng did a couple other romantic comedies (as well as some dramas, I guess) and a pairing is a big deal. I’ve seen Lau in Days of Being Wild, but I don’t remember him and I’ve never seen Cheng in anything. I’m not hip on my Hong Kong offerings anymore. I used to watch John Woo stuff, but now I don’t and unless it’s a Wong Kar-Wai, I just queue a Chinese-language film, I don’t rush to see it. An event romantic comedy has a specific target audience (albeit, in theory, a large part of the moviegoing audience) and I am not part of Yesterday Once More’s demographic. But I got it.

For the first forty minutes of the Yesterday, there’s nicely shot, nicely scored montage after montage. First the divorce, then a proposal to Cheng, then a heist, then a trip to Italy. I had to pause it to see what the time was when the film finally slowed down for a scene. Since Yesterday is supposed to be purely entertaining, it has to do very little. It has to be charming. Well, Yesterday pits Cheng against a kleptomaniac mother-in-law to-be, has a couple private investigators who worry about each other’s cholesterol intake. The heists are even cute. Yesterday works because it keeps it simple–besides the couple, there’s a mother-in-law to-be and a few supporting characters, really supporting. When I started watching it, not remembering why I’d queued it in the first place, I realized as long as they kept the character count low, the film would work.

While Lau is good, he’s not the protagonist–he is the character the audience has to identify with, however. Cheng is the one who actually has to act in Yesterday and she brings a semblance of depth to an easy character. Ultimately, the film stumbles because it doesn’t want to embrace its levity. Out of nowhere, in the last half hour, it actually wants to say something, which it can’t. But even those false steps can’t defeat the film’s charm.



Produced and directed by Johnnie To; written by The Hermit and Au Kin Yee; director of photography, Cheng Siu-keung; edited by Law Wing-cheong and David M. Richardson; music by Chung Chi Wing and Ben Cheung; production designer, Bruce Yu; released by Media Asia.

Starring Andy Lau (Mr. Thief), Sammi Cheng (Mrs. Thief), Jenny Hu (Mrs. Allen) and Carl Ng (Steve).

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