Sausalito

(Cantonese and English dialogue)

(Cantonese and English dialogue)

Featuring one of Maggie Cheung’s best and least-mannered perfs in years, “Sausalito” is a wafer-thin romancer between two 30-ish Chinese in California with the flavor of early Lelouch and buckets of charm. Easily digestible, and never pretending any special significance, pic has a loose, let’s-make-a-movie quality that could make it an audience-pleaser at broadminded fests, especially given Cheung’s familiarity among Western auds.

Actress knocked this one off in late March while starring in Wong Kar-wai’s Cannes competer, “In the Mood for Love.” After shooting wrapped in the Bay Area, she headed back to the East in April for final work on Wong’s movie. Meanwhile, director-d.p. Andrew Lau got “Sausalito” into Hong Kong cinemas in record time, by April 20, while Wong was still tinkering with his opus. Helped by a major ad-pub campaign, local B.O. was sturdy, at around $ 2 million.

Ellen (Cheung) is a single-mother cabby; Mike (Cantopop star Leon Lai) is a computer whiz who owns a cash-strapped dot-com. Their eyes cross in a bar one day and she later sees him drunk in the street. Once inside her cab they spontaneously combust.

Film’s Chinese title (“Love at First Sight”) removes the necessity for showing any foreplay in the relationship, and it’s only after the first volcanic coupling that the movie really begins. She’s 35, two years older than him, and with a young son and kind-of career; he needs cash to get his company out of trouble and develop a game, Nirvana, that will re-establish his name. They essentially come from separate worlds, but can’t stop seeing each other.

Lau keeps the whole will-they/won’t-they souffle from going flat, largely by sheer technique (music, cutting, occasional songs, an improvised feel to the photography). But none of it would work without the cast, especially Cheung. Paired again with Lai for the first time since Peter Chan’s 1996 “Comrades, Almost a Love Story,” and sans fussy makeup, she has a freshness and naturalness here that’s funny, touching and beguiling. Lai mostly stands there and looks good — which is what he’s best at.

Supports are strong, with veteran Richard Ng underplaying Mike’s gay landlord-cum-confidant, comedian Eric Kot reined back as Mike’s business partner and Valerie Chow leonine as a business bitch on wheels.

Sausalito

(HONG KONG)

Production: A Star East presentation of a Bob & Partners Co. production. (International sales: Golden Network, H.K.) Produced by Wong Jing. Executive producer, Jessinta Liu. Directed by Andrew Lau. Screenplay, Thirteen Chan (Chan Sup-sam).

Crew: Camera (color), Lau; editor, Danny Pang; music, Chan Kwong-wing; art director, Patrick Ludden; costume designers, Lee Pik-kwan, Karen Lee; sound (Dolby Digital), Lori Dovi; assistant director, Eddy Yeung. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 16, 2000. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: With: Leon Lai, Maggie Cheung, Eric Kot, Richard Ng, Suki Kwan, Valerie Chow.

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