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Chinese Box

46 customer reviews

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(Sep 29, 1998)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

DVD. Feature film.

Set during the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997, this fascinating film uses that urgent and grandly ceremonial political backdrop for an intimate study of personal transition. Jeremy Irons plays a seasoned journalist who discovers he is terminally ill, causing him to be torn between his obsessive love for a former prostitute (Chinese film star Li Gong) and a streetwise hustler (Maggie Cheung) whom he has chosen as the subject of a video documentary. Through his involvement in the lives of these two very different women, director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) creates a cinematic "love-hate letter" to his native Hong Kong, where each character is allegorical and suffers an identity crisis much like Hong Kong itself. The film's love story is somewhat aimless and ultimately unimportant, but Chinese Box (even the title suggests a place that holds secrets within its borders) remains a fascinating film in the semi-documentary tradition, capturing the psychology of its time and place with compelling immediacy. Musician/actor/politician Ruben Blades is featured in a memorable supporting role. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Jeremy Irons, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Michael Hui, Rubén Blades
  • Directors: Wayne Wang
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Letterboxed, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Lions Gate
  • DVD Release Date: September 29, 1998
  • Run Time: 99 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6305078521
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,114 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Chinese Box" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Kev on August 28, 2005
Format: DVD
I LOVE THIS MOVIE! Sorry, but I have to resort to caps to counter-act all these negative reviews. Wayne Wang is an underrated genius. Sure he's made his fair share of crapola (Maid in Manhattan?), but Joy Luck Club, Center of the World, Smoke, and Chinese Box are all high art as far as I'm concerned. To me this film is about the inability of a westerner to fully understand the east, and more specifically the changing but undying spirit of Hong Kong. Using the british withdrawl from Hong Kong as a backdrop for a story about a dying british man in love with an unattainable Hong Kong woman is an interesting irony by itself.

As far as Gong Li's character being a stereo-typical high-class asian prostitute, and that being a folly of Mr. Wang (as suggested by another review), I think something is being missed. The whole point of her character is that she represents that western (male) fantasty, and is therefore unattainable. Maggie Chueng is the other side of that coin. She is the REAL Hong Kong, although equally elusive. She even has her own "Jeremey Irons" (british boyfriend) that is to her unattainable. Get it?

The shots and camera work are unbelievable in this film. The atomosphere is %50 of it. It has an almost cyberpunk quality. The music, especially Dadawa, is awesome aswell. This is a multi-faceted work of art. By the way, the DVD has some great features!
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Bawko on May 7, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
As with all true masterpieces, you either love or hate this film. I have read all of the reviews for this film on and IMDB (Internet Movie Database) and one thing stands out: All of the reviewers either pointed out what a piece of trash this movie was, or were totally and completely entralled with it's cinematographic spendor. I must confess that I fall into the latter category. I have watched literally thousands of movies in my life (average of 10 per week) and I have to admit that most of them have been forgotten. It is for movies like Chinese Box that I wade through the endless sea of mediocre and just plain pointless films, on the off chance that I will find a jewel in the rough. I feel that Chinese Box is one of the true jems, I would place it in my top 3 list. For those who have experienced the truly memorable experiences (both good and bad) that life can throw at those who REALLY think and care, this movie is for you ! It will dredge all of the past meloncholic feelings out of your subconscious mind and shatter your everyday demeanor. I found myself in tears at the beautiful conclusion of this film, something that only 1 other movie (Bladerunner) has ever been able to accomplish. I have never in my life viewed a motion picture that so perfectly captures the essence of the human condition. All in all, I would say that this is one of the few films I will ever watch again and again, and ever time that I view it will bring exquisite new meaning to this most meaningful piece of art. No, correct that, this MASTERPIECE of cinematography.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Derek James Anderson on January 17, 2000
Format: DVD
Somewhere I read--I don't even know if it was in relation to this movie--that if you've never loved a woman you couldn't have, you won't understand this movie. This is a more than reductive introduction. I can begin by saying that this is one of the most thoughful and intelligent movies about the new internationalism that I have seen, but that sounds like a blurb. Irons is a man whose unconsumatable love for his adopted Hong Kong is embodied in his love for Gong Li's character, just as gong Li's character suffers from a love of the west that cannot escape old collonial cliches of bondage and subordination. So that's a pretty concise summary of the "significance" of each character, so what? By using the romantic metaphor, Wang manages to peel away a layer from our true international obsessions (at the heart of which is possession) and gambits. There are no flattering portraits in this movie: the west tries to use Asia for a quick buck, while Asia tries to use the west for a type of legitimacy. Unfortunately, the actions of the west have estranged it from itself (Irons being estranged from his family), while the attempts to embrace the west isolate the Asian from Asia (Gong Li's inability to climb up the Hong Kong social register). This is just a scratch. 1000 words can't do this very well done movie (except for the strangely lo-tech computer graphics title sequence) justice. You have to think. The movie's there, but you have to think.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Marcus Dixon on July 14, 2008
Format: DVD
From the DVD cover: "Jeremy Irons stars as John, a British journalist living in Hong Kong. John has fallen in love with Vivian (Gong Li), a bartender with a jaded past. Vivian is eager to secure her position in Hong Kong society and wants her successful boyfriend Chang to marry her. When Chang proves to be indecisive about their relationship, Vivian turns to John. Giving into their feelings for a brief but passionate affair, they now face inevitable change and unexpected obstacles in this touching and compelling film."

Nothing else I have seen or read captures the poignant and slightly fevered atmosphere of Hong Kong in the months leading up to the 1997 handover. The relationship between John (Irons) and Vivian (Gong Li), and what we learn of Maggie Cheung's character's past relationship (?) with her schooldays English boyfriend, seem to mirror aspects of the political and cultural relationship between the British and Hong Kong Chinese. The ending is deeply moving.

This film is infinitely superior and almost entirely different in terms of plot, and indeed everything else, from Paul Theroux's disappointing novel, Kowloon Tong, that apparently inspired the makers of this film.
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