Film review: Last Romance – Maggie Cheung, Cherie Chung play best friends in Yonfan’s poignant 1988 melodrama
Loosely adapted from Yi Shu’s novel, this emotional roller coaster, back on re-release, is an unlikely hit that should not be missed by any fans of the two Hong Kong stars
Two of Hong Kong’s most adored screen goddesses lend their girlish charm to Last Romance, re-released 29 years after it became a rare commercial hit in the career of art-house director Yonfan.
While its fashion and social setting are somewhat dated, the 1988 film still packs a punch with its deeply poignant tale of friendship and love that is repeatedly derailed by materialistic greed and lamentable life decisions.
Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Cherie Chung Chor-hung play Nancy and So-so, best friends since age 17. Romantic yet unadventurous, Nancy soon settles for a thankless job at a fashion company and enters her mid-20s without ever being in a relationship. Meanwhile, So-so plots aggressively to rise above her humble family background, stopping her education early to work as a nightclub hostess. She then surrounds herself with rich older men, before agreeing to marry one for money.
The pair’s friendship comes under threat when their mutual high school crush, Jia-ming (Shingo Tsurumi, also in 1986’s Immortal Story), re-enters the picture. Nancy is helplessly smitten with Jia-ming, but Jia-ming only has eyes for So-so. However, So-so proceeds with her marriage despite knowing that Jia-ming is her one true love. Meanwhile, the Sino-British negotiations over Hong Kong and the 1987 financial crash bring tragedy to the characters in more ways than one.
Melodramatic yet admirably unpretentious, Last Romance evokes a world of melancholy regrets, in which characters are trapped as much by unfulfilled romantic desire as they are by their misguided belief in their own capitalist pursuits.
The unfortunate love triangle aside, Yonfan manages to capture the transience of youthful optimism through the changes in Cheung and Chung’s characters, who vividly lose their innocence over the course of 10 years.
The gorgeous but rather loose adaptation of Yi Shu’s novel simply shouldn’t be missed by any Hong Kong movie fan who is remotely enamoured by the two stars. It really is quite an experience seeing Cheung and Chung – who were both in their prime – playing off each other in this emotional roller coaster of a film.
Last Romance opens on August 25
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