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[ HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ]
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She's made a substantial impact of late in her role as the assassin Flying Snow in the acclaimed Chinese film "Hero." Now she arrives in Hawaii with a best-actress award from the Cannes Film Festival for her work in "Clean," which opened the festival yesterday.
She plays a woman who, through her marriage to an aging rocker, dreams of being a singer herself, despite a rocky past filled with drug use. That past catches up with her when her husband turns up dead one day, and she's charged and sentenced for possession.
As she later tries to connect with a son who's been cared for and raised by her in-laws since infancy, Cheung's multilingual character travels from Ontario, Canada, to Paris, London and San Francisco.
Like her character, Cheung knows of extensive travel, splitting her time between her home country of Hong Kong and her adopted European home of Paris.
Still, for someone who had just arrived from Paris the previous evening and was plopped into the tropical climes of Waikiki to participate in a press conference the next morning, she looked surprisingly bright-eyed. Cheung was poised, personable and engaging during a brief interview at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider.
Although Cheung is much in demand in Asia and Europe, for the last 10 years, she's made it a point to occasionally stop being a movie actress and instead revert to her lazy old self, traveling the world.
"For myself, I travel for my own curiosity, seeing and meeting different cultures," she said. "Especially over the last 15 years, I've been traveling a lot. And I notice that as I experience other cultures, I learn more about my own Chinese people. All this travel, of course, helps develop me as an actress as well, understanding the overall nature of people more."
Cheung plans to take time off from film work next year -- a real departure for her. At her busiest, in 1988, she made 12 movies in Hong Kong, including her first collaboration with director Wong Kar-wai, "As Tears Go By."
Eleven years later she would reunite with the director and a former acting colleague from their Hong Kong soap opera days, Tony Leung, in the romantic drama "In the Mood for Love." (The two would star again together in "Hero.")
Since then, she's chosen her roles carefully because, as she explains it, "having a good time making films is just as important as having the final product well-received. I admit I'm a bit prejudiced, but it means a lot to me to enjoy the process of shooting movies. ... I'm happy to wait for the right script."
The Hawaii film festival asked Cheung to pick one of her earlier films to showcase at a special screening, and she chose her '97 award-winning movie "Comrades, Almost a Love Story" (screening at 8 p.m. Monday at the Dole Cannery cineplex).
With mainland China's reclamation of Hong Kong very much on the minds of its citizens that year, the movie distilled what some mainlanders, specifically those in Guanjo (Canton, the city closest to Hong Kong) felt about the career possibilities the island held.
"The film takes place in the previous years, when it was harder to access Hong Kong," Cheung said, "so people like the character I played were more aggressive in wanting to go. It was a time when it was thought diamonds fell from the sky in Hong Kong. My character originally is looking for a career, but instead finds love with another mainlander, and how that complicates things for the both of them."
While Cheung doesn't measure her work by how many accolades she's won, she admits the best-actress award for "Clean" was "a big encouragement. Sometimes, as an actor, you get recognized for what you feel may not be your best work, but with this role, it did feel reassuring -- so much so that if I'm asked by a film festival what movie of mine I'd like to see again, I would probably pick this one out of my résumé."
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