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Life is Cheap... But Toilet Paper is Expensive / Chinese Box

Actors Gong Li and Jeremy Irons
September 17, 2022 - 7:30 pm
Q&A with filmmaker Wayne Wang, pop culture writer John Powers.

New 4K restoration! Director’s cut!

Life is Cheap... But Toilet Paper is Expensive

U.S., 1989

A man is hired to deliver a briefcase from America to Hong Kong in this loose, Hong Kong-set version of Chan is Missing—with far more bodily fluids. Filmmaker Wang returns to his birthplace for the first time since his days at Royal Television Hong Kong in the 1970s, now as an experienced filmmaker with a distinct point of view. With late-1980s Hong Kong street photography of open air markets and an impressionistic sense of narrative, Life is Cheap… is Wang’s most experimental work to date, blending the formalist sensibilities of the nouvelle vague with documentary-like moments and direct-camera addresses. When the film received an X-rating from the MPAA, the film’s distributor, Silverlight Entertainment, chose to release it without an official rating, cheekily applying an “A” rating for “Adults Only,” a move praised at the time by the influential Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on an episode of At the Movies.

DCP, b&w/color, in English, Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles, 85 min. Director: Wayne Wang. Screenwriters: Spencer Nakasako, Amir Mokri, Wayne Wang, Koon-Chung Chan.

Digitally restored and remastered by Lightbox Film Center at University of the Arts (Philadelphia) in collaboration with University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive with funding from Ron and Suzanne Naples, and Wayne Wang.

Watch a trailer:

Chinese Box

U.S., 1997

Chinese Box chronicles an ailing British journalist’s pursuit of truth and love in Hong Kong in the months leading up to the end of British rule. John (Jeremy Irons) spends his time navigating between cocktail parties, where the old guard hobnobs with the new, and the city streets, where, armed with his video camera, he attempts to record an “authentic” Hong Kong. There he encounters Jean (Maggie Cheung), a scrappy street hustler with a story. Shot on location and in sequence to allow for overlap with current events, the film evokes a palpable sense of immediacy and uncertainty as the shift in power plays out.—Kate MacKay, BAMPFA

DCP, color, in English and Cantonese with English subtitles, 87 min. Director: Wayne Wang. Screenwriters: Jean-Claude Carrière, Larry Gross. Inspired by the short story "Last Act: The Madhouse" by Rachel Ingalls. With: Jeremy Irons, Maggie Cheung, Gong Li, Michael Hui.