Opening its international tale in London, Clean (2004) centers around Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung), an addict married to junkie rocker Lee Hauser (James Johnston).
Lee's career is going into the dumpster, thanks to drugs. His friends blame Emily, regarding her as Nancy to Lee's Syd, Courtney to Lee's Kurt, Yoko to Lee's John...
Lee's dad Albrecht (Nick Nolte) in Vancouver, B.C., gets the crappy news of his son's death. Emily had been in jail & got clean of drugs, for the moment at least, before setting out for Vancouver.
Jay (James Dennis), her kid, has been living with the grandparents Albrecht & Rosemary (Martha Henry). With their son now dead, they're seeking permanent legal custody. Grampa wants Emily to agree not to see Jay. He's very cruel, with no regard for her feelings.
Sure, she's proven herself an unreliable parent. Still, he ought to care that his grandson knows his own mother even if her history prohibits custody. So I didn't like the bastard at all. Pretty amazing how Nolte plays him, though.
Emily is used to such maltreatment & quickly caves in to his wishes. She leaves for Paris to sort out her life, working as a waitress, & is all too soon no longer clean.
She struggles to make things work out so she can see her kid again, but she's now totally alone in the world. Very few friends from the music industry care one whit about her. The exception is David Roback of Mazzy Star fame, who is willing to help her launch her own singing career, which of course Emily sabotages.
The prospects of even a well-meaning junkie turning her life around are all too credibly portrayed.
Maggie Cheung is one of the greatest of international stars, but of such extraordinary beauty she has rarely been given the chance to play a gritty role. She's stunningly up to it.
In 1998 Maggie married French director Olivia Assayas, who also cast her in the lead of Irma Vep (1996). It's hard to say whether she or her husband gained most by their alliance!
The marriage ended in 2001, but he still wanted her as his star. Smart choice. She won the Best Actress award at Cannes for Clean, then in 2006, greatly on the basis of Clean, she was listed as one of the world's twenty-two best performers by the New York Times.
Unfortunately for her fans, not long after making Clean Maggie decided to retire from acting & pursue more wholeheartedly her aspirations as a composer & painter. As late as 2008, she was saying she enjoyed not acting, & had no plans to return to filmmaking, even though Quentin Tarrantino convinced her to appear in a cameo.
Born in 1964, most Chinese actresses get squeezed out of the industry much younger than Maggie, & she may have wanted to jump ship before she was kicked off it. Bailing with a Cannes award in hand was going out at the top of her game.
Her admitted reasons, however, beyond wanting to master other arts than acting,& weariness of the demanding schedules that prohibited a home life, include a sense of having achieved all that she can as an actress, & complete lack of temptation by the offer of Hollywood roles that (Hollywood being Hollywood) were invariably stereotype characters insulting to Chinese people.
She furthermore had an emotional investment in serious roles that linger too long after a film is completed.
Having made a major breakthrough with Clean that should've led to more actorly roles, she discovered she was really happier playing flufflier roles, that did not haunt her overly sensitive temperament.
One hopes directors & producers will continue to bait her back onto the screen from time to time. She has said she could be convinced of a new film if it gave her an opportunity to work with actors she most admires.
As she always finds it hard to bounce back healthily after playing a character who is tormented, suicidal, or a junkie, but has said if she could play a comedy with someone as brilliant as, say, Audrey Tautou, that might be a joy to do.
It's hard to say if the ending of Clean weakens the story or does the right thing merely to relieve some of the agony of existence. The story in the main convinces that nothing good can ever happen for an addict. Yet at the film's last few minutes, the preceding tragedy is contradicted by tons of hope.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl