Although there have been countless romantic movies set in New York City over the years, Mabel Cheung’s AN AUTUMN’S TALE tells a less conventional story by focusing on immigrants in Chinatown. Released in 1987, the movie follows a young woman from Hong Kong who finds comfort, companionship, and belonging in an unlikely person who helps her to assimilate to the city.
Jennifer, played by Cherie Chung, moves from Hong Kong to New York City to further her studies and to join her boyfriend, Vincent, who she hasn’t seen for a while. Upon arriving in New York, she’s greeted by her distant cousin, Samuel (Figurehead or “Figgy” as she calls him), played by Chow Yun-Fat, who has arranged an apartment for her in his building in Chinatown. Described to Jennifer by her mother as a successful leader in the Chinatown community, Figgy isn’t exactly who she expects him to be, as he is uncouth, irreverent, and has a bit of a gambling problem. In spite of his lackluster qualities, Yun-Fat imbues Figgy with so much charisma and charm, and creates the perfect foil to Jennifer’s more reserved character.
After arriving at a train station to surprise her boyfriend, she finds him with another woman, and becomes heartbroken. As she mourns her relationship with Vincent, she begins to acclimate to life in New York and her less-than-ideal circumstances as she continues spending more time with Figgy, who quickly becomes her closest companion in the city.
Throughout the movie, Jennifer and Figgy grow closer and begin to develop feelings for each other. As he helps her out by doing things like building her a bookshelf and fixing up her apartment, she discovers that she enjoys spending time with him and begins to question her feelings for him.
The backdrop of New York City also seems to develop as the movie progresses, as it first appears dangerous, grimy, and foreign to Jennifer. By the end of the movie, the city grows to be charming and full of beauty, as she grows more accustomed to its environment and her life there.
AN AUTUMN’S TALE was one of the few movies from Hong Kong I’ve seen and my first film by Mabel Cheung. It depicts a less familiar side of New York City, showcasing an unlikely romance between immigrants in a foreign city. Rather than being intense and passionate, the romance between Jennifer and Figgy is delicate, meditative, and requires patience, and Cheung expertly directs the pair as they traverse through her vision of New York City in the fall.
AN AUTUMN’S TALE screens tonight (December 13th) for HIFF Selects members.