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Maggie Cheung is a phenomenal actress. In the Mood for Love has got to be one of her best movies, but her huge filmography includes such classics as Hero and Days of Being Wild. She is a hugely versatile actress who has done romances, thrillers, and comedies and has been convincing in absolutely every role she has ever taken on. Maggie has always been extremely successful and is highly acclaimed for her acting abilities. However, in my opinion, Clean takes her acting to the next level.


Married to a faded rock star, Emily lives the life of an upper class junkie. They’ve been on the road for the best part of a decade, all the while taking cocaine and heroine to fuel their journeys but when Emily returns to their motel room to find the police taking out her husband’s over-dosed corpse, her whole life is instantly unravelled. Arrested and sent to prison for six months, she comes out to be told by her father-in-law that she cannot see her son – whom she and her husband abandoned to the in-laws whilst they were ‘on the road’ – for fear that her habits will have a bad influence on him.

Tired and broken, Emily finds that she not only has to wean herself off the drugs physically, but she also has to get out of the lifestyle that she was in before. Prior to his death, she and her husband lived in a drug-heightened dream world where they assumed that they called all the shots and thought their one-time fame meant that they could get away with being really awful to people. Now Emily simply cannot afford to be a bitch, or a junkie. You see, all she wants is to prove herself and become clean so that she can see her young son again. Only then can Emily be a part of his life and make up for some of what has happened. It is all that is keeping her alive.


Clean is a fantastic drama, shot in France with its star, Maggie Cheung speaking no less than three languages fluently. The most part of the movie is in English, but there are segments in both French and in Cheung’s native Chinese and funnily enough, she sounds pretty damn good speaking English – hell, we even get to hear her sing and she’s not bad at that either! She is a remarkable actress and her talents are clearly on show here as she is pushed to the limit playing a nasty, drug-addicted self-created bitch who has to find her heart and warmth in order to become a mother again.

She is not the only one on top form, as the grizzly gravel-voiced Nick Nolte – who we last saw playing the Hulk’s father – is also at his scene-stealing best. He plays the father-in-law who is trying to get to know his grandson and make up in some ways for letting his son go astray by helping Emily find herself again. Aside from these two, there are lots of familiar faces but only in nominally cameo parts: from the full-lipped, full-bodied Betty Blue herself – Beatrice Dalle – playing one of Emily’s friends, to Massive Attack’s very own vocalist Tricky, seen here growling into a microphone on stage whilst clutching at a fat joint. All of them fare well in respective roles but it is really Cheung’s film and she captures your interest from start to finish. It’s a great little movie that relies more on taut dialogue and good performance rather than big bangs and special effects and it is well worth your time.


Clean is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer that is barely above average. The detail is fairly good but there is noticeable edge enhancement and some scenes have a little too much softness. There is a light grain running almost throughout but it never really interferes with viewing pleasure. The colour scheme is quite broad but seems slightly faded, which could be intended since the material is fairly bleak. Blacks are relatively solid and overall the transfer is reasonable if far from exceptional.

There is one basic track, a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that is recorded in the movie’s original languages – primarily English, with some French and some Chinese. Despite the limitations of the two channels, the dialogue is perfectly clear and there are a few nice songs that come across well from the frontal array. There is no real room for any directionality and there are few effects other than perhaps traffic sounds. There is also no bass and overall it is a fairly restricted track but that said, it does the job reasonably well and never really detracts from your enjoyment of the movie.


There are a few extra features on the disc. There is a three-minute clip of footage from the Hong Kong Gala Premiere of the movie but it is of limited value seeing as it has no optional subtitles. The two-minute theatrical trailer is in English and paints a reasonably good picture of the story without giving away too much. There is a small photo gallery with a mere ten stills, all taken from the main movie itself.

Finally we get cast and crew filmographies, but this time they have a surprise gem attached; each text filmography has an interview – in English – with the respective actor or crew member. First up we get fourteen minutes with the lovely Maggie Cheung, who once again shows that she has a remarkably descriptive and adept command of the English language. She talks at length about her character’s motivations and discusses getting to work with Nick Nolte, explaining what a nice, genuine and unpretentious person he seemed to be. She also mentions how she has no aspirations to work in Hollywood and how playing the character in Clean drained her and ruined her Christmas. It is quite a nice little interview and a tremendous gem to find on the disc. Similarly, for Nick Nolte we get a short interview under his text filmography. Running for seven minutes, in it he gets to talk about working on a French Independent movie – something which he has never done before – and what a different process it was to Hollywood. He has a few anecdotes about working with the director and seems to have genuinely loved working on the production. The final filmography, for the director Olivier Assayas, has a twenty-minute interview with him where he talks about the whole concept behind the film and the various characters. He talks about working with his wife, Maggie Cheung, and how fellow director Wong Kar Wai really moulded his acting talent at an early stage. Although it was a little overlong, it was still nice to have a contribution from the director.


Clean is a fantastic little movie about getting off and staying off drugs and out of the associated life, with a commanding performance by the excellent Maggie Cheung. With a great supporting cast led by Nick Nolte, it is a brilliant film that has been given only a lacklustre presentation here, with perfectly reasonable but unexceptional video and audio specifications. The extras seem, at first glance, fluffy and pointless but the hidden interviews are absolutely fantastic and a real gem of an extra. Overall, considering the reasonable price, it is worth picking up just for Maggie Cheung’s amazing performance alone.

You can purchase this title for $14.99 from top retailer Yes Asia.