April 24, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Chinese Box

Current Status
In Season
Maggie Cheung, Jeremy Irons, Gong Li, Wayne Wang
Romance, Drama
We gave it a B

Hong Kong-born director Wayne Wang sets Chinese Box (Trimark), an intriguingly vibrant, messy, overloaded love story, on the eve of the British handover of his native land to Chinese control. And in the passionate, thwarted relationship between John (Jeremy Irons), a British journalist and longtime Hong Kong resident, and Vivian (Gong Li), an elegant hostess with a less than elegant past, loyal to her rich Chinese businessman boyfriend (Michael Hui), Wang (The Joy Luck Club) sees symbolism around every crowded corner.

Much of the film is mesmerizing, a pulsing jumble of vivid images (including documentary-style footage) from terrific cinematographer Vilko Filac (Underground) that, shot during the actual handover, reflect the exotic color, energy, and political contradictions of the locale. But still other storytelling digressions — including an equally symbol-heavy subplot concerning a punky, sexy, vagabond con artist (Jackie Chan regular Maggie Cheung) scarred, literally, by her girlhood love for an English boy — add up to less than the sum of Wang’s many excited forays down crooked Hong Kong alleys. B

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