Maggie Cheung is an acquired taste. That may be a disingenuous way to describe a movie star with her credentials, but the Chinese international actress has occasionally gotten lost in the shuffle of drop-dead gorgeous women and dashing leading men passing through the Hong Kong-Shanghai-Taipei entertainment mills. Cheung's specialty is the creation of dynamic characters with deep feelings. Her glamour is a by-product of the emotional power she has always stamped on her most memorable performances — only rarely in English. For that reason, her work is relatively unknown in this country.
But now comes "In the Mood for Maggie Cheung," a mini-retrospective of seven titles arriving at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive this week for a two-and-a-half-month-long stay. The one absolute must-see in the series is Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, a deliriously sexy urban romance with Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai as next-door neighbors whose careful, gesture-filled mating dance is one of the marvels of Hong Kong cinema. It plays one time only, November 10.
Cheung spent part of her childhood in England, so perhaps that explains her flair for non-Chinese projects such as the Parisian movie-about-movies fantasy Irma Vep (November 3 and 5) and the contemporary social-problem drama Clean (November 17), both directed by Cheung's then-husband, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. The English-language Clean is especially notable for Cheung's wrenching portrayal of a heroin-addicted media personality and mother, trying to sort out her life in the European-American fast lane.
Also recommended: Center Stage, director Stanley Kwan's soapy, weepy, but completely absorbing bio of the tragic 1930s movie icon Ruan Lingyu (November 30 and December 9), and Peter Chan's Comrades: Almost a Love Story, with Cheung as an energetic working-class Hong Konger almost — but never quite — falling in love with fellow mainland newcomer Leon Lai (November 26). Even when Cheung appears in a costumed period setting, her essential modernity asserts itself. For the characters she creates, life is lived minute-to-minute. For more info: BAMPFA.org
In the Mood for Maggie Cheung
November 3-December 16 at Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive.