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Through Thick and Think

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In “Chinese Box,” Jeremy Irons plays a journalist living in Hong Kong when it’s returned to Chinese rule. After he learns he’s dying, he pursues the love of his life (Gong Li) and tries to find the real Hong Kong. Rated R.

Sandra Keenan, a 16-year-old from Costa Mesa, could have used a briefing on Asia before seeing “Chinese Box,” Wayne Wang’s latest, much-praised film set in contemporary Hong Kong.

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She was unsure about the human toll involved in the huge, money-hungry city’s shift to Chinese rule after Great Britain controlled it for 156 years. Moving from a democracy to communism prompted one character to commit suicide, and Sandra said that intrigued and confused her.

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“I get that [the political change] could make your life terrible, [but the suicide] was too much in a way,” she said. “I didn’t know why he’d do that.”

Sandra had to think about “Chinese Box,” which is what made it so attractive to many teens who saw it in Santa Ana recently. For Sandra and others, the story, however complicated, was gripping.

Sandra especially liked the relationship between John (Irons) and Vivian (Li). Vivian is married to a prominent Hong Kong businessman, but John doesn’t let that get in the way.

Much tension, both romantic and otherwise, is the result, especially after John finds out he has leukemia. With only a few months to live, he tries to resolve his relationship with Vivian.

Sandra thought that was remarkable. “You could tell how much he cared for her.”

James Hartwell, 17, of Irvine also thought the love story was compelling but said John’s illness was gimmicky: “There was enough interesting stuff going on all around him already.”

Including politics. The suicide is a statement by a dissident who fears Chinese rule will affect cultural freedom. James said: “I don’t think he should have [killed himself], but I could appreciate it.”

His friend Sara Lim, 15, of Costa Mesa thought “Chinese Box” was a little hard to follow, especially when it came to the political and economic problems facing Hong Kong.

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Still, Sara enjoyed the interesting characters, which included Jean (Maggie Cheung), an eccentric young woman living on the streets. “She was really cool, the way she looked and acted her own way all the time,” Sara said.

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PARENTS’ PERSPECTIVE: Michael Rodgers of Santa Ana said “Chinese Box” is a fine film but unsuitable for anyone younger than 15 because of its complexity and sexual situations.

“I liked it a lot [and] wouldn’t mind my kids [15 and 17] going to it,” he said. “I think they’d understand it now, but it would have confused them a few years ago.”

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