Film Review: ‘Anita’3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
A biopic tracing the life of Hong Kong singer, actress and social activist Anita Mui
Director: Lok Man Leung
Cast: Louise Wong, Louis Koo, Fish Liew, Lau Chun-Him
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Mandarin dub
Runtime: 137 minutes
Crafting a biopic on Anita Mui is always an immensely tall and perilous task — and Anita never truly escapes the feeling that it walks on eggshells. The legendary Cantopop singer, actress and social activist is one of the most beloved figures in Chinese diasporas throughout the world, and the biopic elects to retell the beats of her story generations of fans are all too familiar with.
Debuting actress Louise Wong is a phenomenal stand-in for Mui, nailing her looks and mannerisms. However, the biopic hardly affords any opportunity for Wong to explore Mui beyond. The glitz and glamour Anita brings are absolutely astounding, but how it stumbles in fleshing out Mui leads the biopic to be a polished crowd-pleaser that clings on to the celebrity’s established legacy, rather than adding anything fresh.
Anita details the tragically short life of Anita Mui right from her early days singing alongside sister Ann Mui (Fish Liew) to her final performance 45 days before her passing. The biopic mainly focuses on her lifelong friendships with fellow superstar Leslie Cheung (Lau Chun-Him) and stylist Eddie Lau (Louis Koo), and her failed romantic relationships throughout the years.
Old wounds will definitely be reopened for fans heading into Anita. Louise Wong’s Mui is astoundingly uncanny; the recreation of her on-stage charisma is magical. Healthy doses of Mui’s hits are peppered throughout the biopic as it similarly recreates Hong Kong’s halcyon days through lavish sets — computer-generated and otherwise. Anita belongs on nowhere else but the big screen. Its scale never fails to awe.
However, the biopic’s stomach for ambition is not as strong when it comes to fleshing out Mui. There is, very clearly, a vested interest in being as uncontroversial as possible — and this does rob the soul from the portrait.
The famously brash and outspoken superstar is presented as near-mistake free, focusing on tragedies through her viewpoint as a victim. The romantic relationships she is involved in lack spark and chemistry because of this flawlessness. Outside of romance, there are hardly any conflicts and tensions.
Perhaps the most frustrating part is how Wong clearly has the acting chops to deliver more than a picture-perfect imitation. Her scene privately mourning Leslie Cheung’s death is unbearably heartrending, so too is with any and all opportunity given for her shine.
The biopic strives towards a message of hope and courage as well, paralleling Hong Kong’s uncertainties during the 1997 handover and the SARS pandemic to our current times. But this is where Anita starts doubling down on using archival footage instead of relying on Wong’s performance.
Choosing to chart Mui’s story by starting with the final moments before her last performance is a sure way to turn on the waterworks for fans. However, after more than two hours of tensionless retellings, and even with Wong’s doppelganger-like performance still intact, the emotional stings are not nearly as potent as memory might dictate once the film does circle back around.
Anita is still a magnificent tribute to the late icon and to the city. Through Mui, the unbendable spirit of Hong Kong is championed and celebrated in spectacular fashion. It’s understandable but still unfortunate that the biopic feels a tad too sanitised and timid — when Mui Jie is beloved exactly because she dared to be the complete opposite.
Anita is now showing in theatres islandwide.