Peter Chan is not your typical Hong Kong director, although from afar he may appear that way. He pretty much followed the same path as his peers, he worked with the big stars and he won the local awards, but in a few key areas his work is noticeably different. For one, he's a lot less prolific than most of his fellow Hong Kong directors.
Maybe it's because he's also rather active as a producer, maybe he just likes spending more time on a single film. Whatever the case, in his 28 year long career he's only directed 17 films. Sure enough that's more than most directors out there, but for a Hong Kong director that number is actually quite low. If you can't manage 1 film per year, you're just slacking.
Peter Chan started in the late 80's, but his early films are hard to come by. The oldest Chan I've seen is Xin Nan Xiong Nan Di [He Ain't Heavy... He's My Father], a rather poor drama/comedy that fails to engage on any level. It's not because Chan lacked the means or failed to get a compelling cast (both Tony Leungs appear in the film, next to Yuen Chor), it's just that the presentation is disappointing, the humor is tepid and the drama never hits the right notes.
The 90s weren't kind to Chan either (though many people seem to like Tian Mi Mi [Comrades: Almost a Love Story], don't ask me why) and like many of his peers he ended up moving to America around the turn of the century. Still trying to make it with comedy/dramas, he managed to hook Tom Selleck and Ellen DeGeneres for his USA-based film, but the result wasn't exactly pleasing. No surprises there. Even so, something changed after that because his return to Hong Kong marked the start of a string of worthwhile releases.
It started with a short in Saam Gaang, a successful pan-Asian horror anthology. The real turnaround came when Chan released Ru Guo Ai [Perhaps Love], a stunning modern musical featuring Takeshi Kaneshiro and Xun Zhou. He even upped himself with Tau Ming Chong [The Warlords] and followed up with Wu Xia [Swordsmen], all great variations on established genres. But then Hong Kong cinema started to slump once more and Chan did what most of his peers did ... he moved his business to China.
While I haven't seen Zhong Guo He Huo Ren [American Dreams in China] yet, Qin Ai De [Dearest] is a decent enough film, but nowhere near Chan's best work. It's quite typical for most Hong Kong directors who relocated to China. Somehow they have trouble reaching their best form over there, while native Chinese directors are releasing the more interesting films.
Peter Chan made some good film and if you're not familiar with his work yet, make sure to at least sample some of his post-2000 films. His earlier films are a bit tougher to get into and will mostly appeal to Hong Kong die-hards. Whatever you do though, don't start with his American film because that may put you off of his oeuvre entirely, which would be a downright shame.