1992, 167 min. Directed by Stanley Kwan. Starring Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Shing Hong, Carina Lau.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 26, 1993

At 154 minutes, this expansive Chinese film version of the life of actress Ruan Ling-yu -- China's answer to Greta Garbo and one of that country's most highly regarded silent film stars -- is an occasionally compelling glimpse into not only the brief life of its subject (she committed suicide at age 25) but also an arresting glimpse into the early years of Chinese filmmaking. Director Stanley Kwan (Rouge) obviously holds the memory of Ling-yu in high regard, parading her before the camera and lovingly recreating what is known of her tragic personal life at the time. In a unique twist on the standard Hollywood biopic, Kwan utilizes archival footage from the actress' six remaining films and even goes so far as to have the players step out of character from time to time to discuss what Ling-yu meant to them and to the history of silent films in China. Unfortunately, this too frequently comes off as a sort of period-piece version of China's Most Wanted or Where Are They Now? His uneven mix of reenactment, black-and-white interviews, and broken fourth walls results in a wildly uneven tribute to a Chinese legend -- at times it's hard to tell just where in the story you are, making this a confusing, though well-intentioned, epic that goes everywhere and nowhere at once. As Ling-yu, Maggie Cheung has the Garbo-isms down pat, though compared to the actual footage we see of the doomed actress, Cheung is far more beautiful. Tony Leung (The Lover) is here as Ling-yu's one-true-love/downfall -- it's the fact that he never divorced his previous wife that causes the actress to go over the edge into suicidal madness. Apparently Leung has that effect on women. Gorgeous though it may be, Actress remains a curiously uninvolving movie. Despite all the histrionics, it's just plain hard to care about this gorgeous cipher of a woman.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Actress
An Actress Plays Herself in the Role of a Lifetime
An Actress Plays Herself in the Role of a Lifetime
A documentary filmmaker finds his subject living next door

Anne S. Lewis, Feb. 6, 2015

More Maggie Cheung Films
Ashes of Time Redux
Dreamlike, confounding, yet possessed of a stunningly complex sensual and narrative poetry, Wong Kar-Wai's Chinese film is absolutely gorgeous.

Marc Savlov, Nov. 7, 2008

With an award-winning performance by Maggie Cheung, Clean is one of the most emotionally honest movies about drug addiction ever made.

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 2, 2006

More by Marc Savlov
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Welcome back, Mister Wick: Everyone's favorite merciless killer gets more human and more intriguing

May 17, 2019

Carmine Street Guitars
Spend time with the quiet artisans who make the instruments that rock & roll is built upon

May 10, 2019


Actress, Stanley Kwan, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Shing Hong, Carina Lau

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle