Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ann Hui's A Simple Life (2011) with Andy Lau

What a pleasure to actually see a good movie in Hong Kong with the The Gang of Film!

Not only that, but it was perhaps the first time that I'd ever been to the cinema here on a film's opening weekend to find a virtually full house!

Deanie Ip, from Spiritual Love (1987) and many other titles, delivers a really fantastic and naturalistic performance in Ann Hui's A Simple Life (2011).

(I'm using the date of release despite the fact that the print tonight said 2012; the film played so many festivals last year that it seems appropriate to acknowledge that.)

I really would like to criticize the film -- and I can but not without revealing some plot points -- but my criticisms would be rather petty ones: the cameos went from being cute to being vaguely distracting; the shots of real OLD people struggling in the nursing home felt a tiny bit exploitative, and so on.

Forget all that. A Simple Life (2011) is, on further reflection, one of the best films to come out of Hong Kong since Ann Hui's earlier The Way We Are (2008).

Add to that the fact that the film features one of Andy Lau's most understated performances...ever! Who knew he had it in him to tone it down so effectively?

Despite a rather strained attempt at humor by the use of an African immigrant in one scene -- a scene I had to have explained to me, I might add -- the film is remarkably restrained. Apart from some moments of unnecessary soundtrack music, I can't think of too many serious missteps made in the picture.

What's unsaid in the film is that domestic helpers are largely Indonesians and Filipinos here now. The days of a maid "serving" a family for 6 decades like Ip's Ah Tao are probably over.

In that focus on Ah Tao and those of her generation Ann Hui is, obviously, focusing on the plight of HK's older residents, but she's also reminding us of history.

A Simple Life (2011) is almost a reflection on a changing Hong Kong. Not quite, but almost.

As it is, the film is a near-classic.

More importantly, Ann Hui knows how to make a film of sentiment without being sentimental about it. The tone is rarely mawkish here. If not for those violins, I'd say that things were pretty understated.

I feel pretty safe in saying that there won't be many other films coming from Hong Kong in 2012 as good as A Simple Life (2011).