Glamorous, with physical grace and a hypnotic voice (in five languages), the iconic Chinese actress Maggie Cheung, fits seamlessly into both contemporary and period roles. Born in Hong Kong to parents from Shanghai, she began her career in beauty pageants and as a model. Her earliest films were fluffy romantic comedies, churned out by the Hong Kong studio system, but by 1987, she was working with action master Jackie Chan. And another artistic association, begun at the same time, with the great director Wong Kar-Wai, resulted in a profound body of work.
Beginning with Wong’s debut feature, “As Tears Go By” (1988), they made five emotionally resonant and visually glorious films together, four shot by the brilliant cinematographer Christopher Doyle, including “In the Mood for Love” (2000), an atmospheric study of longing, and a masterpiece.
“Maggie Cheung: Center Stage,” a 20-film retrospective at Metrograph, will open on Thursday, December 8 and run through Wednesday, December 21. The films, all 35mm prints, include her work with Wong, two Jackie Chan films, Olivier Assayas’s “Irma Vep” (1996) and “Clean” (2004). Another highlight (and the film that gives the series its title), is Stanley Kwan’s multi-layered doc/fiction hybrid, “Center Stage” (1991). Cheung, sublime, incarnates the pre-revolutionary Shanghainese silent screen goddess Ruan Ling-yu, who committed suicide at 25, in the wake of a devastating scandal.