Clean (2004)

Dedicated to reviewers who recognize and appreciate a real star when they see one. Now back off!

At the outset, Maggie Cheung is clean but she’s not “clean.” A friend of mine saw the movie and all he could talk about was Maggie. This is a guy who’ll watch a flick with Michelle Yeoh in it, or Sandra Oh or Lucy Liu or Gong Li or ZiYi Zhang, no matter what it’s about, him just sitting there taking in the sight of Maggie or Michelle or Ziyi onscreen in all her Asian-ness, Sandra in “Last Night” living up in Canada and working in indies long before becoming a doctor on TV, or Lucy slicing and dicing in “Kill Bill” with that Siamese-cat crossed-eyes thing she does, or Michelle the quiet, reserved, classy force in “Crouching Tiger” as opposed to her glamorized American persona when she does those interviews on DVD. Or Margaret Cho, if that’s your thing, popping up for a quick turn in “Lost Room,” strapped. And then my friend will say, oh, she was soooo wonderful, she’s soooo beautiful, blah, blah, got her up on a pedestal, the guy’s yellow fever running wild irregardless of the woman. What’s wrong with these men? Are they afraid to commit?

When Angelina Jolie (not interested!) starred in A Mighty Heart, the question that arose was whether she could disappear into her role in spite of her celebrity. With Maggie in Clean, it’s can she wrap up the role into her own selfness and walk through the movie without my friend jumping off the couch shouting That’s not you Maggie get ahold of yourself for the love of God! Because he’s used to all those Hong Kong action flicks she’s made, and then Kar Wai Wang. Now in Clean she has to be a 2nd-rate faded rock star junkie. Anybody who’s watched “Behind the Music” on VH1 knows what that’s all about. In other words, can we stay with her at least till she gets to her epiphany at 52 minutes into the film where she lowers a window in the subway train (which right there is why we should all move to Paris) and throws all her methadone and her methadone prescription out onto the tracks because she’s just tired of waitressing, arguing with her father, getting stood up at job interviews, working in a department store, and what else, oh yeah, her partner OD’ing on the stuff she brought him and then some other guy OD’ing shortly thereafter? And by the way, is it so wrong for her to look so good even if she’s supposedly using, because for a 43-year-old singer with a bad habit, she looks better than most ladies do on their best days, not like Courtney or a young kid like Lindsay Lohan, at 21 already showing major signs of wear and tear. More like Jennifer Connelly in “Requiem,” who even at the bottom of the barrel, hard used and I do mean hard used, is still looking pretty sharp. Let the Burstyns of this world take their parts over the edge using the Method or whatever. Maggie, getting out of a car in Canada at sunrise, down from a high: lookin good. Then out on the street after six months in prison, still heavily on methadone, with the hair intact just begging you to run your fingers through it: lookin good. But I will say, her so imposing onscreen, it’s shocking to see her standing next to Nolte and her ex in a publicity shot, looking as small as she does. But that’s good too. She’s delicate. They’re all delicate. Delicate fighting machines. Except Margaret. So anyway, just to have Maggie up there onscreen with that low, breathy, English accent, talkin oh so low, or easin along in Frenchy, or rating her papa in Cantonese. That’s what I’m talking about. Commit to a woman! Throw Nolte up next to her for the contrast. He’s the big dog in this production. Assayas and Maggie both were shy and in awe when he showed up. He’s got that Smoking-Gun mugshot look down pat, but he’ll always be Thomas Jefferson to me, scoring with Gwyneth and Thandie (not interested!) in Paris. (That’s Thandie before the eating disorder.) Btw, Maggie claims to do everything, be everything, make every sacrifice, all for Hong Kong, just for the Hong Kong fans. She says that. You could look it up. Not for Hollywood. Not for Europe or anyplace else in the world. Just Hong Kong. And me taking Cantonese classes like mad for her. And THEN she goes and marries a Frenchy.

Olivier Assayas, namely. That lout. Get a shave, Skinny! Are Asian women all attracted to hairy white males? Give some love to the man of color! Ass-ayas makes a couple of movies and thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Maggie’s well off without him. I don’t see that he’s remarried or has any children. Is he still carrying a torch for Maggie? Pray God he’s not. He treats her like a queen in this movie, even as she was signing the final divorce papers. The camera moons over her. He said that he just wants to allow her to be herself, show herself on screen. I’m not complaining! She dropped him; he didn’t drop her. I don’t know that for a fact but I hope it. I surmise it. “In the few years that we were together,” she says, not sadly. I definitely don’t think about the time they spent together, if you know what I mean. That’s water under the bridge, the time they spent together. He says he’s imagining her as a widow in this movie. You wish! Feel sorry for yourself, Olivier! In the movie, she doesn’t like any of the guys that much. You know she’s hanging out on the set with Emily Haine and the rest of Metric, and Tricky (who blows her off in the movie but as soon as the cameras stop, he’s back there, I guarantee), and David Roback, who wrote her songs for the movie, and James Johnson, who plays her partner. Johnson’s not even a real actor; it’s his first movie. He has a band and also sings with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Maggie argues with him in the movie and I didn’t buy that for a minute. It wasn’t bad acting on her part! She just doesn’t really care about the guy. I’m definitely not threatened by the Indie rock scene of the 80s; it’s extinct. The kids in Metric enthusing about staying in a nice hotel for a change during the shoot, and riding in a van that doesn’t smoke, whereas they’re used to rolling up to the gym to play for 40 minutes at a dance in Indiana. And btw, in their interviews, neither Metric nor Tricky nor Nolte ever MENTIONS Maggie. Why? Because Assayas cut it out. Jealous.

Just to say about Assayas: Maggie’s not goofy or all existential or mailing it in in Clean. Assayas lets her be herself, WANTS her to be herself, not some crazy sidekick to Jackie Chan or moonbat for Kar Kai Wong. That’s how I know Maggie dropped him, not the other way around. If you were in love with her but you could only, you know, film her, then you’d want it to be HER you were filming, right? In the same way, if you were in love with her but could only WATCH her movies, not really be with her live in person but only vicariously? Well, she’s been in more than 800 movies, believe it or not, so if you just ran two movies a day, that would be 730 movies a year, so you could spread out her other 70 or 100 movies over the year, maybe one extra movie every third or fourth day. Would that be enough to sustain your romance? No, but you’d also have her 358 YouTube entries. And you could go Google Maggie Cheung images. And you could also read reviews of her movies, but every clown out there has an opinion, knuckleheads trying to suck up to her and soreheads ragging on her. Speaking of YouTube, you can see the tribute clip I put together with shots of her and me getting together. It took me weeks to make it, especially using a handheld to get those shots of myself in action. [Rats they took it down.]

Maggie doesn’t get to interact with her son until we’re 60+ minutes into the movie. And by the way, if you’re the president of the oldest, most exclusive Maggie Cheung fan club in the U.S., shouldn’t you be entitled to at least a personal interview with her? Dinner together while we discuss her life and her work? She’s got this child in the movie whom she apparently doesn’t see much for his first seven or eight years, and then when she does, she’s pretty remote, like you’d expect, but does she have any children of her own? I’m trying to imagine her pregnant. Forget I said that. I think she’d be a good mother. I can imagine her being my mother. I’d run home and fly into her arms and bury my face… Aw what’s the use? And by the way, how seriously should we take the lesbian/bisexual aspects of this movie with reference to Maggie’s aspirations toward motherhood? What’s the cultural take on an individual’s casual liaisons with beautiful people of both sexes in the context of family values these days? I’m sensitive to any untoward discoveries that I might make if she and I would actually form a relationship. She’s used the name “Man-Yuk Cheung” in some of her billings. Not a good sign? But what if her “special friend” were Michelle or Lucy or Sandra? Man. Not much to go on in the film, though – she just admits it; it’s actually just a little distraction, but you know why Assayas put it in, the dog. Anyway, she’s an addict, she’s bisexual in a somewhat uncommitted way, she drinks and smokes a lot, but she looks great. A Maggie quote: “Because I’ve done so many different roles, I don’t want to repeat myself. It’s getting harder and harder to find something interesting.” This after only the first movie where she plays a normal human being? She says she’s not a lonely woman, which means she is. She should try hanging out with one of her greatest fans ha ha. Same as with her son, we don’t get her dealing with Nolte much till 60+ minutes into the movie. I’m like Nolte, sort of, under the skin, all wise and practical and whiskey-voiced. If she liked him, she’ll love me. If she does have kids, they could visit every once in a while. I could handle that. But I would tell her one thing: no singing. She wants to sing. She says so. But no. Talk, Maggie, in any of your various lingos. Just don’t sing.

Is it really so wrong to stalk a movie star? Folks are watching them all the time anyway. As long as you don’t bother her or do something inappropriate, why not? Join the paparazzi! Assayas is practically stalking her with his camera in Clean anyway. It’s a Vogue shoot. He’s not over her, is why. In the movie she’s running around Canada and Paris like she owns the place, just at home anywhere in the world. (What about those Canadian police, eh?) Assayas says it’s because she was born and raised in London, spent so many years in Hong Kong, and now in France. She doesn’t know where her roots are, so she takes them with her whereever she goes. One little stalker like me isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference.

My interview with Maggie: Finally caught up with Maggie last night at Mr. Chow on North Camden just off Wilshire in Beverly Hills. She was eating rabbit. A glass of red wine, high-gloss lipstick (she doesn’t need it), and a B. Romanek Crocodile Rockstar Clutch on the table next to her plate. Those dark, dark eyes, my God. I only had a second to ask her some questions about Clean, so I went with that scene in Paris: How do you lock somebody INTO a bathroom – is that a French thing? And how come Nolte’s son in the movie had such a thick English accent? And that final shot in the movie – Is that taken from Marin? Reversed? Doesn’t seem right to me. They were on location in S.F., but is it a Vancouver shot stuck in there? Anyway, Maggie answered me in Cantonese. I should have worked harder in that Chinese language class! The only word I caught before I had to leave was “rabid.” Must ask her to use English next time.

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