Mary From Beijing (1992)
Written & directed by: Sylvia Chang
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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1993:
Ma Lei (or Mary, played by Gong Li) was born in Hong Kong, raised in the Mainland and is now struggling to cut through the bureaucratic tape in order to get an ID card. She's in a relationship with Peter (Wilson Lam - Magic Cop), the son of a wealthy man so there's no shortage of cash or opportunities to go shopping. But it's not furthering Mary herself and she feels she's left out to rot in the background of the life of a very different boyfriend. Without knowing it, she has stumbled upon a form of saviour before though. Whilst drunk, she follows Wong Kwok-Wai (Kenny Bee) home and they share a bed. Nothing happens and Kwok-Wai goes to his apartment across the hall the morning after. But various events, mostly relating to Mary not being able to take care of Peter's dog Baby, leads to Mary and Kwok-Wai striking up a friendship as two people wanting to get ahead in life. He sees an opportunity to use her Mandarin skills to break into the Mainland business market and she has possibly found someone encouraging to lean towards whilst she finds her confidence and footing...
Wrapped around big issues of economy and the fear of what will happen during the handover of 1997, Sylvia Chang also puts at the top of the cake a tasty, basic, coherent little date movie in Mary From Beijing. With class A skill backing her in the form of executive producer Zhang Yimou and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Chang embarking on her 4th feature as director doesn't necessarily play the game of gripping audiences right away. Her quiet drama doesn't, despite the date movie tag I personally feel is a worthy one, stop for exposition either during the first 30 minutes and admittedly you're not quite sure of the connections between Mary, Peter and Kwok-Wai. There's plenty of slick imagery by Doyle to suck in, the presence of Gong Li in a Hong Kong production and eventually Sylvia manages to cement connections needed in order for the remaining hour to be engrossing.
Again, big issues are talked of and experienced in the film but correctly so, Chang wants audiences to focus on two characters. Main one being Mary who is superbly essayed by Gong Li (co-star Kenny Bee projects a fine likeability as well) as this sheltered, borderline depressed woman who's stuck in a relationship rut that she may or may not afford to give up as getting that ID card is a tricky thing. She needs to prove her heritage and ultimately prove to herself she can walk with her head up high and with confidence. Kwok-Wai doesn't have issues as such, besides that pesky one of needing to clear divorce terms with his ex-wife to be (Synthia Cheung) so his full engagement to the cause of Mary may come back and bite him. Otherwise he's a poster boy for engaging that forward drive. Seeking opportunities and remaining connected to your fellow man or woman so more than you yourself can feel inspired and aspire to something. His various encounters with Jan Lam's character that has upgraded in corporate life every time he meets Kwok-Wai are amusing, important facets to the background theme and one very brilliant scene set in the Mainland sees Kwok-Wai listening to Mary's father talking about finding your roots your way.
These splendid scenes speaks to Sylvia Chang's ability to let moments play and Christopher Doyle shooting these moments professionally doesn't take away from the needed simplicity of them. With total devotion once you get into the story, Mary From Beijing is fine local filmmaking touching upon global emotions and yet another splendid little gem out of Sylvia Chang's catalogue of directed films. Coming from the school of independent thought, tackling issues around you and making cinema that can access any viewer, it's a perfect stance to take and a remarkable achievement when it affects your entire human you.
The DVD (Joy Sales):
Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 & Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0. The former option contains a mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin as intended.
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin) and simplified Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin).
Extras: The trailer and a photo gallery (11 images).
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson