Film Review - Comrades: Almost A Love Story (Tian Mi Mi)

   To refer to Peter Chan's remarkable motion picture Tian Mi Mi as "Almost A Love Story" (as the English subtitle does) is to do his film an incredible disservice - whilst the movie indeed chronicles much more than just a burgeoning romance, the love story at it's center is one of cinema's greatest ever told. The woozy tale of two lost souls trying not to fall in love with each other against destiny's desires is a swooning lament and soaring tribute to the unfathomable power of the human heart.

    Comrades: Almost a Love Story , a film drunk on it's own dream-like majesty, tells the tale of a migrants' romance with the same passion and vivid conviction of The Pogues A Fairytale of New York - in place of Fiachra Trench's lilting string arrangement, however, is the sumptuous cinematography of Jingle Ma whose camera mesmerisingly captures Li Xiao-Jun (Leon Lai) and Li Qiao (Maggie Cheung) as young lovers who fall for each other and the music of Teresa Teng with the same immutable and irreversible conviction.  

   The decade spanning romance begins with our protagonists, both originally from mainland China, discovering each other in Hong Kong - a land they have voyaged to in order to find their fortunes. Li Qiao, however, is not the romantic lead often found in typical stories; her main method of making money is to hoodwink fellow main-landers into handing over resources. It just so happens that naive Li Xiao-Jun is one such man to fall for her trickery but, although they begin their time together as deceiver and victim, their shared loneliness and status as desolate souls in a big, bustling metropolis brings them together in a passionate, albeit, doomed affair.

   With a fiance back in China, Li Xiao-Jun knows his time with Li Qiao must end; they depart each other's company physically, moving onto new relationships, but deep inside an unbreakable bond has been formed. In keeping with the film's English title, as much as our leads would prefer this to not be a love story, it is indisputably so - the pair shared youth and fell head over heels with each other and the music of Teresa Teng together. Bonds like these are not easily broken.

   In tracing their intertwined narratives, the fate of Hong Kong in the build-up to it's handover, and the gracefully emotive music of Teresa Teng, Chan has crafted a subtly amorous tale which is sentimental and nostalgic as well as a smart social commentary. A wounded, yearning spirit drives this film forward at all times, keeping the audience baited of breath in a conclusion they pray to arrive in spite of the character's wishes, and, in it's complex tapestry of relationships Comrades: Almost A Love Story bears great similarities to the cinema of master auteur Wong Kar-Wai  (it should be noted that Christopher Doyle, the acclaimed cinematographer of In The Mood For Love amongst other Wong masterpieces, takes an acting credit in Chan's movie).

   Tian Mi Mi is a fairytale of New York, Hong Kong and, indeed, anywhere where a human heart can be found beating.

A quick note about Teresa Teng: 

   The object of their shared affection is Teresa Teng, the legendary and powerfully emotional Taiwanese singer; a performer whose song gives the film it's original title. 

   One of the first singers to bring popular music to China, her songs were revolutionary - rather than communist anthems celebrating the power of the regime, Teng's tender laments spoke of heartbreak and longing, giving dignity to the self as an individual. This was considered dangerous by a government who were formed on the ideology of the collective over the self and, as such, these simple love songs became personal, political statements. 

   The passion of her music, much like the content of the movie, almost told  love stories and, simultaneously, infinitely more.

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