Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, as is her complete name, was born in Hong Kong by Shanghainese parents, who moved to the United Kingdom when she was eight. She returned to Hong Kong at the age of 18, and became a model. In the next year, she entered the Miss Hong Kong pageant and won the first runner-up.
She started her career in TV show business but quickly switched to cinema. However, at first, she were limited to “eye candy” roles, with the most famous being “May” in the first three “Police Story” films along Jackie Chan. Nevertheless, she proved her acting prowess in Wong Kar Wai’s “As Tears Go By’’.
Since then, her career was a straight path to success. In 2004, she became the first Asian to win the Best Actress Award in Cannes, for “Clean.” Moreover, she has been selected as a jury member of all the important European film festivals, an an acknowledgement of her global fame. She gradually retired from acting and is now pursuing a career as film composer and editor, additionally working on philanthropy.
Here is a list of her best roles in cinema.
15. Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985)
Police officer Kevin Chan succeeds in arresting a drug lord by himself. However, the drug lord manages to incriminate Chan with the murder of another police officer. Chan has to clear his name to retain his relationship with his girlfriend, May.
Maggie Cheung portrays May in an uninspired “eye candy” role that mostly consists of her screaming or crying. However, due to its commercial success, “Police Story” established her as an actress, although mostly for her beauty rather than her acting.
14. 2046 (Wong Kar Wai, 2004)
Journalist Chow Mo Wan writes a novel entitled 2046, concerning passengers taking a train to search their lost memories. The story starts in the future, in 2046, and gradually becomes a trip of the memories of Wan. Each stop symbolizes a woman of his past. His most unforgettable love was Su Li Zhen, evidently the woman in the film In the Mood for Love. The train’s trip is actually a search for this woman.
Maggie Cheung plays Su Li Zhen, appearing only in flashbacks. More like a cameo than an actual role, her presence is ethereal and sensual, though she appears chiefly for connecting this particular film with “In the Mood for Love.”
13. Ashes of time (Wong Kar Wai, 1994)
Ouyang Feng owns a small hotel in the middle of the desert, where he works as an intermediate between those who seek revenge and potential killers-for-hire. Huang Yao Shi is a swordsman who visits him every year and this time, he brings a wine that helps Ouyang Feng to forget a former love that ended badly.
Maggie Cheung plays the Feng’s former love, in another role that is more of a cameo, since her screen-time barely adds up to ten minutes, and half of them are close-ups of her face. However, her character is essential to the story and Cheung proved once more that she could act wonderfully.
12. New Dragon Gate Inn (Raymond Lee, 1992)
Tsao Siu Yan is a powerful eunuch and acts as the emperor’s delegate to rule eastern China. His ruthless tactics force many of his subordinates to raise rebellions. However, he discovers their plot, kills the main plotter and uses his children as baits to lure the rest of the conspirators. Nevertheless, they manage to rescue the children and end up taking shelter at the Dragon Gate Inn, with Tsao’s forces on their heels.
Maggie Cheung plays Jade, the owner of the inn, who secretly protects the rebels. In two scenes including the duel with Brigitte Lin and the final battle against the eunuch, Cheung demonstrates very impressive performances.
11. Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar Wai, 1990)
The film is set in the 60’s Hong Kong, where Yuddy meets Su Lizhen in the snack bar of a stadium. He courts her and the two have an affair. Later on, he meets Mimi, a stripper that has won the heart of his best friend Zeb. In the meantime, Su Lizhen meets Tide, a police officer.
Maggie Cheung portrays Su Lizhen, a weak, indecisive and day-dreaming woman , who silently struggles with the pain Yuddy has left her. However, after her romance with Tide, she becomes a happy person. Cheung is impressive in her portrayal of the shy, introverted and moody girl.
10. As Tears Go By (Wong Kar Wai, 1988)
Wong Kar Wai’s directorial debut was where Maggie Cheung truly began her serious acting career.
Wah is a young triad member who faces a number of problems, with the largest being his protégé named Fly, a gangster who constantly messes up everything. Things become more complicated for Wah when his second cousin Ngor comes to live with him because she must receive medical treatment for her malfunctioning lung. The two of them end up falling for each other.
Maggie Cheung gives a strong performance as Ngor. Her acting abilities become rather evident, particularly in the scene where the two lovers part and she slowly starts crying.
9. Green Snake (Tsui Hark, 1993)
Based on an ancient Chinese legend, the film tells the tale of two sisters, both snakes, who decide to take human forms in order to understand human feelings like love. The elder sister, White Snake, who is more trained in her magic, marries the scholar Hsui Xien and manages to hide her identity from him. However, Green Snake, unable to hide her identity due to her inferior magic, eventually draws the attention of a Buddhist monk named Fa Hai, who determines to banish both snakes from the earth.
Maggie Cheung plays White Snake and manages to convey much sensuality and to infuse her character with complexity. Additionally, she is wonderful as usual, in the action scenes.