Hong Kong Women Filmmakers

Cheung, Mabel

Critical Biography    Filmography    Reviews   Bibliography

 Cheung, Mabel – Critical Biography  Top

Mabel Cheung

Mabel Cheung

Mabel Cheung double-majored in English literature and psychology at the University of Hong Kong before studying drama and creative writing at Bristol University. Upon graduation, she began working as a writer-director at RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), taking part in the behind-the-scenes work of such programs as the famed Below the Lion Rock series. In 1981, she chose to pursue further studies in filmmaking, and enrolled in the MFA program at New York University. There she met her future husband and filmmaking partner in the form of fellow student Alex Law, with whom Cheung would go on to collaborate on the majority of her feature films.

Cheung’s first feature film was a drama about illegal immigrants in New York’s Chinatown. It was Cheung’s graduation work for her MFA degree, but Cheung received both production and distribution support from Shaw Brothers through a fortuitous meeting with Mona Fong. Released under the title of Illegal Immigrant (1985), Cheung’s debut established her credentials as a young director who has lived abroad and is sensitive to the plight of diasporic Chinese. She followed it with her first bona fide hit, the romance An Autumn’s Tale (1987), set once again in New York City and depicting the relationship between a young woman from Hong Kong in search of her boyfriend and an older, working-class immigrant who has lived in Chinatown for years. Making effective use of its stars Chow Yun-Fat and Cherie Chung, the film was a major success at the box office and also won Best Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Cheung collaborated with martial arts actor Sammo Hung for her two subsequent features. Painted Faces (1988) was a drama based on the real-life story of martial arts master Yu Ho and his disciples – Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, et al., collectively known as the “seven little fortunes,” while Eight Taels of Gold (1989) further explored the theme of diaspora through the story of a man returning to his hometown in China after having lived abroad for years as an illegal immigrant. Both films showcased the fine acting talents of Sammo Hung, but Cheung and Law reunited with star Chow Yun-Fat for Now You See Love, Now You Don’t (1992), a relationship film in which Chow played a country bumpkin who speaks throughout in a regional dialect.

City of Glass (1998)

City of Glass (1998)

Cheung labored for years over the historical epic, The Soong Sisters (1997) – starring Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, and Vivian Wu as the eponymous spouses of Sun Yat-sen, K’ung Hsiang-hsi, and Chiang Kai-shek, respectively.  Given the political sensitivity of its historical subject matter, the film was initially censored and cut by Mainland authorities, but Cheung went through a lengthy appeals process, and The Soong Sisters was ultimately approved for release. Following The Soong Sisters, Cheung turned to memories of her student days at the University of Hong Kong for the nostalgic romance City of Glass (1998), a narrative that cross-cut between 1970s and 1990s Hong Kong in an inter-generational search for local identity. The 1997 handover had prompted many to reflect on the history of Hong Kong, and City of Glass represented Cheung’s contribution to that reflection, as well as paving the way for her later work, Echoes of the Rainbow (2010).

Echoes of Rainbow (2010)

Echoes of Rainbow (2010)

Cheung had spent much time in Beijing during the appeals process for The Soong Sisters, and her impressions of the city’s rock and roll scene led to Beijing Rocks (2001), a drama set in Beijing’s underground music scene that starred Shu Qi and Daniel Wu. In 2003, Cheung was invited by Jackie Chan to make the film Traces of a Dragon (2003), a documentary about Chan’s family origins that the martial arts star had wanted to make after a series of recent revelations about the identity of his biological father as well as the discovery of two half-siblings late in his life. The film related Chan’s intimate family story against the turbulent background of modern Chinese history, but Traces of a Dragon was not widely seen.

In 2010, Law (as director) and Cheung (as producer) scored a major hit with Echoes of the Rainbow (2010), a nostalgic melodrama about the trials and tribulations faced by a working-class family in 1960s Hong Kong. The modestly budgeted film won the Crystal Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival and went on to become a huge local box-office success.

Filmography   Top

Feature Films:

Title (English)
Title (Chinese)
Co-director with Alex Law Kai-yui A Tale of Three Cities (Trailer) 三城記 2015
Producer Echoes of the Rainbow (Trailer) 歲月神偷 2010
Director Traces of a Dragon: Jackie Chan & His Lost Family 龍的深處-失落的拼圖 2003
Director Beijing Rocks (Trailer) 北京樂與路 2000
City of Glass (Trailer) 玻璃之城 1998
Director The Soong Sisters (Trailer) 宋家皇朝 1997
Executive Producer
Now You See Love, Now You Don’t (Trailer) 我愛扭紋柴 1992
Eight Taels of Gold 八兩金 1989
Executive Producer
Painted Faces 七小福 1988
Director An Autumn’s Tale 秋天的童話 1987
Director Illegal Immigrant 非法移民 1985


Title (English)
Title (Chinese)
Co-director with Alex Law Kai-yui 1:99 Shorts 1:99 電影行動 2014
Director Beautiful 2013 – Indigo (Trailer) 美好2013: 深藍 2013

Reviews   Top

A Tale of Three Cities Reviews:

LoveHKFilm.com: http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews_2/tale_of_three_cities.html

ScreenDaily: http://www.screendaily.com/reviews/a-tale-of-three-cities-review/5095010.article

Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/a-tale-three-cities-san-818129

A Tale of Three Cities Interviews:

Cinevue: Interview with Mabel Cheung and Alex Law of A TALE OF THREE CITIES

IndieWire: LFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Mabel Cheung – ‘A Tale of Three Cities’

beyondasiaphillia: Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies: An interview with filmmakers Mabel Cheung and Alex Law

Eastern Click: http://www.easternkicks.com/features/mabel-cheung-interview

Echoes of the Rainbow (2010) Reviews:

Far East Film: http://www.fareastfilms.com/reviewsPage/Echoes-Of-The-Rainbow-2384.htm
Film Business Asia: http://www.filmbiz.asia/reviews/echoes-of-the-rainbow
Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/echoes-rainbow-film-review-29427?page=show
Love HK Film: http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews_2/echoes_of_the_rainbow.html
Screen Daily: http://www.screendaily.com/reviews/echoes-of-the-rainbow-shui-yuet-sun-tau/5010888.article
Variety: http://variety.com/2010/film/reviews/echoes-of-the-rainbow-1117942208/

Traces of a Dragon: Jackie Chan & His Lost Family (2003) Reviews:

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/movies/movie/282942/Traces-of-a-Dragon-Jackie-Chan-and-his-Lost-Family/overview
Screen Daily: http://www.screendaily.com/traces-of-the-dragon-jackie-chan-and-his-lost-family/4012237.article
Time Out: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/traces-of-a-dragon-jackie-chan-his-lost-family
Variety: http://variety.com/2003/film/reviews/traces-of-a-dragon-jackie-chan-and-his-lost-family-1200543475/

Beijing Rocks (2000) Reviews: 

Love HK Film: http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews/beijing_rocks.htm
So Good Reviews: http://www.sogoodreviews.com/reviews/beijingrocks.htm
Variety: http://variety.com/2001/film/reviews/beijing-rocks-1200552140/

City of Glass (1998) Reviews:

City on Fire: http://www.cityonfire.com/hkfilms/cd/cityofglass.html
Love HK Film: http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews/city_of_glass.htm
So Good Reviews: http://www.sogoodreviews.com/reviews/cityofglass.htm
Variety: http://variety.com/1999/film/reviews/city-of-glass-1200456924/

The Soong Sisters (1997) Reviews:

Love HK Film: http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews/soong_sisters.htm
Variety: http://variety.com/1997/film/reviews/the-soong-sisters-1200449222/


HK Magazine:

Bibliography   Top

  1. Berry, Michael. “Coda Hong Kong 1997.” Berry, Michael. A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. 365-384.
  2. Ford, Staci. “Transpacific Waves in a Global Sea: Mabel Cheung Yuen-Ting’s Cinematic Archive.” Chinese Women’s Cinema: Transnational Context. Ed. Lingzhen Wang. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. 330-346.
  3. Ford, Stacilee. Mabel Cheung Yuen-Ting’s: An Autumn’s Tale. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008.

(Last Update: 7 November 2017)