Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Ka-Fai in Farewell China

This is an extraordinary film with a shocking ending. In some ways it plays as a darker version of the later Comrades, Almost A Love Story. The premise is straightforward with Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Maggie Cheung as a young couple in rural China. They met during the Cultural Revolution, married and have their allowed one child. Their aim is to emigrate to America and eventually, after countless attempts, Hung (Maggie Cheung) is successful in getting a visa to study and sets off promising to send for Zhou and their son as soon as possible. When his letters are returned ‘undelivered’, Zhou decides to travel himself, leaving his son with the grandparents and by a circuitous route via Panama, he makes it to New York. Without English, how is he going to find Hung?

Directed by Clara Law, who made several features around this time, the film begins in a recognisable social realist style, but in New York, many of the scenes are set at night in different ‘Chinatowns’ in Brooklyn and the Bronx and also in Harlem. One IMDB user remarks that the film shows areas of New York that don’t usually appear in feature films. For me, the nighttime scenes were reminiscent of films like Scorsese’s After Hours, with the dark streets as very menacing.

The narrative offers a wealth of sociological detail about the different migrant groups. The ‘mainlanders’ occupy the lowest level of rented housing, whereas the Hong Kong and Taiwanese communities have been able to move out. I don’t want to spoil any narrative expectations, but there is an interesting use of an American-Chinese character. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are excellent and I don’t really understand why films like this don’t get picked up for UK distribution. It would be great to screen this next to Nick Broomfield’s Ghosts or Michael Winterbottom’s In This World – as well as Comrades, Almost A Love Story. (Available on an All Region DVD from Fortune Star, Hong Kong.)