Chinese box

Chinese Box, directed by Wayne Wang, 1997 Hong Kong


John (played by Jeremy Iron), a British journalist with years of experience reporting Hong Kong’s politics, economy and people’s personal lives; consumed by his passion for truth, he is unaware that his identity and condescending attitude as a colonizer often get in the way of finding the real stories on this small island which are rapidly changing, especially around 1997 when it is time for Great Britain to hand over to China its former colony; in love with a Chinese girl by the name of Vivian; later diagnosed to have leukaemia which causes him to faint from time to time; as he lays dying, British hold on Hong Kong is also quickly vanishing and coming to an end;
  Vivian (played by Gong Li)
a girl from mainland China looking for a better life in Hong Kong; works as a high class call girl in a night club; a mistress to a rich Chinese business man who is the proprietor of the bar where she works; eager to learn English as well as Western demeanor to improve her chance of success in HK; pursued romantically by John who feels she is being exploited; when certain that her Chinese partner has no intention to marry her, goes to John as his health rapidly deteriorates; gets courage from a dying man to start her life anew;
Jean (played by Magie Chang), a young girl with a scared face, born and raised in Hong Kong; makes a living by selling cameras and watches in the street; when approached by John for her personal story, tells lies about childhood abuse, incest, rape and prostitution, the exotic and sensational stuff she believes a Westerner expects to hear from a Chinese girl; when such self-misrepresentation is exposed by John, tells him about her past in which she tried to commit suicide after she was separated from her British lover when his father forged a goodbye letter to her because he did not like his son to be associated with Chinese; utterly devastated when later John brings to her old flame, who tells her he does not remember who she is;

Rick, John’s friend and a newspaper photographer; interested in photographing all the interesting surfaces and appearances of Hong Kong that are fascinating to outsiders; his professionalism as a photographer drives him to be everywhere where history is being made by people he calls “human subjects”; often crashes at John’s apartment when having problems with girl-friends;

Mr. Chang, a successful businessman and a public figure originally sent to Hong Kong by the mainland, very rich but also very controlling; leads a double life; in public, he is for democracy and human rights; in private he wants to keep Vivian as his mistress as long as possible short of marrying her; agrees to take a wedding picture with Vivian to please her mother on the mainland but refuses to have his reputation sullied by marrying her as a former prostitute;