Chinese Acting School: Maggie Cheung

maggie cheung

Today is Chinese actress Maggie Cheung‘s 48th birthday,famously known for the role she played in Wong’s phenomenal In the Mood for Love,this Oriental beauty hasn’t lost her charm a bit,and as time goes by,her real charm of maturity only begins to reveal.

Born in Hong Kong, Maggie Cheung traces her family roots to Shanghai. Her family emigrated from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom when she was eight. She spent part of her childhood and adolescence in England. She returned to Hong Kong at the age of 18 in 1982 for vacation, but ended up staying for modeling assignments and other commitments. In 1983, she entered the Miss Hong Kong pageant and won the first runner-up,and was considered by many Chinese as the most beautiful Miss Hong Kong pageant ever.

Prior to 1988, her screen appearance was often limited to eye candy roles.Maggie frequently cited her performance in the movie As Tears Go By (1988), her first of many collaborations with film director Wong Kar-wai(others including The Days of Being Wild,Ashes of Time,In the Mood for Love and 2046), as the piece that truly began her serious acting career. Maggie’s linguistic talent was further discovered in her later films,in Centre Stage, she performed in Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese fluently, switching languages with ease. In Clean, she performed in fluent English, French, and Cantonese. She is a polyglot as a result of her upbringing in Hong Kong and England and ten years’ stay in Paris.

Though born with a face and figure any Oriental women would envy,Maggie Cheung is never a vase,she is the only Chinese actresses to win the Best Actress Award in two major European film festivals(Centre Stage in Berlin and Clean in Cannes).She married French director Olivier Assayas in 1998. The pair divorced in 2001 but their relationship remained amicable. In 2004, Cheung made her award-winning film Clean with him.In 2007,after 25 years of making movies, she decided to retire from acting to pursue a career as a film composer,just like the role she played in Clean.

Below are the major film roles she has played:

Ngor in As Tears Go By (1988)

Maggie Cheung’s first role as a serious actress,also the first feature film of the world renowned Hong Kong auteur Wong Karwai.Critics have compared the film to Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, as the central plot revolves around a small time gangster trying to keep his smaller-time gangster friend out of trouble.The Chinese title of this film is “Carmen in Mong Kok”,and Maggie Cheung played the “Carmen” role,a young girl fell in love with the tragic character Wah played by Andy Lau.It’s a complete flavor of Maggie Cheung in this film from her famous roles in In the Mood for Love and Clean,she is young and innocent,but unlike the eye candy roles she played before this film,she was able to express deep emotions through her acting,and this role paved the successful road to a world film star.

Maggie Cheung in As Tears Go By


Yuen Ling-yuk in Centre Stage (aka Actress)  (1992)

The film is based on a true story: the tragic life of China’s first prima donna of the silver screen, Ruan Lingyu. This movie chronicles her rise to fame as a movie actress in Shanghai during the 1930s. Maggie Cheung portrayed “the Chinese Garbo” Ruan in this movie. In order to look like Ruan,Maggie Cheung voluntarily asked the permission of removing her eyebrows,it’s not like those Hollywood make-up special effects,this was for real.For her brave dedication to the role and the immersed performance as a actress buried in rumors,she received the first major acting award in her career,the Best Actress Award in Berlin Film Festival.

Center Stage
Maggie Cheung in Centre Stage


Jade in New Dragon Gate Inn  (1992)

New Dragon Gate Inn is a 1992 Hong Kong wuxia film directed by Raymond Lee and produced by Tsui Hark, starring Tony Leung Ka-fai, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung and Donnie Yen. It was released as Dragon Inn in North America.The film is a remake of Dragon Gate Inn (1966). New Dragon Gate Inn was shot as a standard wuxia action thriller, with fast-paced action including martial arts, sword fighting and black comedy set in ancient China.As most of the Western audiences recognize her in In the Mood in Love,this is her most popular performance among Chinese audiences.In this film Maggie Cheung played a role completely opposite to all those roles she had played,a beautiful vicious femme fatale as the boss of a delicatessen which uses the human flesh as the source material for their steamed stuffed bun.She didn’t win for this role,but it’s definitely one of the most memorable performances in her career.

new dragon gate inn
Maggie Cheung in New Dragon Gate Inn


Li Qiao in Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996)

The film, spanning years, centers on two Chinese mainlanders who migrate to Hong Kong to make a living, but end up falling in love.The Chinese title of the film, ‘Tian Mi Mi’, comes from a song of the same name by Teresa Teng, which is famous both in mainland China and among the overseas Chinese community. The movie displays love of the famous singer who died a year before the film was released; the film is considered a love poem in memory of Teresa Teng. Maggie Cheung played an opportunist/entrepreneur from Cantonese speaking Guangzhou, Li Qiao, who takes advantage of mainlanders like herself for financial gains.It is not her best performance,but still a very good one,you might like to watch it for the reason as it being one of the best Chinese romantic films ever.

Maggie Cheung in Comrades: Almost a Love Story


Su Li-zhen in In the Mood for Love (2000)

Ranks at #24 in the latest Sight&Sound greatest films poll, In the Mood for Love is the highest ranking Chinese language film in the list.It’s almost like the classic Chinese film “Spring in a Small Town” remake with the background of Hong Kong,the film is about a married man and a married woman who meet each other as neighbors then both struggles between morals and love.Maggie Cheung played the unhappily married housewife Su Li-zhen in this film,as a fact,who can ever forget the scenes when the cheongsam-dressed Su Li-zhen descend the stairs in slow motion with the lovely score of Quizás, Quizás, Quizás in the background? that is Oriental beauty at its peak,and one of the impressive images in any Chinese films.Though look stunning in all these tailored cheongsams,Maggie Cheung is superb as a mature Chinese lady play against the Cannes-winning actor Tony Leuang.If you have never seen this film,grab the latest released Criterion Blu-ray because it is currently the most beautiful Chinese film you can get for home entertainment.

Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love


Emily Wang in Clean (2004)

Clean is a 2004 film directed by French director Olivier Assayas, starring Nick Nolte and Maggie Cheung,Maggie Cheung played a film composer who tried her best to get rid of her drug addiction for her child after her husband’s death.This role was almost tailored for her by her ex-husband since it’s a very challenging role,it offered a great chance for Maggie Cheung not only showed her linguistic talent,but her mature acting skills.The look of the character Emily is quite subversive,and it is refreshing to see  Maggie Cheung speaks dirty words in English and actually sings the theme song for the film.Not surprisingly,she won the Best Actress Award in Cannes Film Festival with her understated performance.

clean maggie cheung
Maggie Cheung in Clean


What Maggie Cheung films have you seen? What performances of hers impressed you? Please leave your comments below.