A Simple Life
Details: 120 mins, Hong Kong,
Synopsis: Ah Tao (Deannie Yip), has worked for the Leung family for 60 years. For the past decade, the only member of the family left in Hong Kong is Roger (Andy Lau), who works in the film industry. Having cared for Roger from childhood, Ah Tao suffers a stroke and asks to be admitted to a nursing home. There, she becomes part of a new family made up of colourful characters. All the while, as roles are reversed, Roger tenderly cares for her as she enters the final phase of her life. Based on a true story.
An exquisite story of love and devotion.
[The] unfussy, unflashy directing style doesn’t draw attention to itself, but works steadily to a powerful and emotional conclusion.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: One of the perennials of the Hong Kong film industry, Ann Hui has done it all from kitchen sink drama to kung fu hi-jinks. Never ceasing to experiment, she has made the occasional miscalculation with her 2010 utopian lesbian romance All About Love being regarded by some pundits as evidence of the beginning of a downward slide. As if in rebuke to the criticisms of that film, Hui delivered one of her best to last year’s Venice Film Festival: A Simple Life. Rolling out at the Sydney Film Festival on June 11 with an encore screening on June 16, A Simple Life is a deceptively plain and uncompromising drama of a dying woman and the lives she has touched.
Featuring Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau (who also produced), A Simple Life begins with what appears to be the story of a film producer Roger who is busy spinning deals from Hong Kong to Beijing to LA. So frantic are the days of this jet-setting film executive’s that it renders the existence of his lifelong housekeeper, Ah Tao (Deanie Ip) invisible. Roger takes the food Ah Tao has prepared for him in the same, slightly superior indifference that he has since he was a child of a family that has mostly emigrated to Vancouver. The scenario shifts emphasis when it becomes apparent that after a life of servitude, Ah Tao, not only can’t look after Roger anymore, she will also have trouble looking after herself. About to lose the woman who has looked after him since infancy, Roger begins to repay his obligation by supervising her placement in a retirement home.
While some filmmakers resort to gallows humour to deal with the confronting issues of an old folks home, Hui tackles it head on. With an unflinching, scrutinising eye this film observes the bureaucratic and emotional pitfalls and, though they may be far and few between, even the pleasures of retirement homes. It would be an act of denial to think that this film could end in any other way than Ah Tao’s death, but this is truly a film where the journey is of more importance than the destination.
Delivering a tender performance, Ip is touchingly memorable as the ageing servant Ah Tao. Andy Lau, never puts a foot wrong in this juicy role, underplaying it all the way. Also look out for other many of Hong Kong film alumni including Sammo Hung and Anthony Wong in supporting roles.
The sharing of the name between Andy Lau’s character and producer/scriptwriter, Lee Yan-lam (aka Roger Lee, who makes his screenwriting debut alongside the more experienced Susan Chan of Who Am I? and Tokyo Raiders) encourages the perception that this script is deeply personal. Giving it extra emotional heft is the factoid that Ip amongst her long list of credits stretching back to the 1970s, also happens to be Andy Lau’s real-life godmother.
The compassionate, but balanced use of all these elements demonstrates just how a good director Hui is. Her unfussy, unflashy directing style doesn’t draw attention to itself, but works steadily to a powerful and emotional conclusion. Hui caps all of this with an unexpected, but authentic, coda that will have the most hard-hearted of film viewers dabbing at their tearing eyes with handkerchiefs.
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