Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
Sunday, April 23, time 3.15 PM

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A Simple Life

One of the best-loved dramas of post-1997 Hong Kong film, A Simple Life saw Ann Hui take the intimate story of a housemaid and turn it into a major cinema success. Based on producer Roger Lee’s own experience of life with his family’s long-serving maid, the film stars Deanie Ip as Chung Chun-tao, a mainland-born woman who was first adopted as an infant, then sent to be a servant for the Leung family, with whom she lived and worked for more than six decades.
The film picks up with producer Roger Leung (Andy Lau) looking back two years to the time that Ah Tao stopped work at his suburban Hong Kong apartment. Ah Tao is seen cheerily going about her duties, and he’s jetting to and from the mainland for film pro­jects, when she’s hit with a mild stroke. Having seen someone else succumb to a second stroke, she decides to stop work and move to an elderly home with round-the-clock care.
Once in the home, Ah Tao must adapt to a markedly different lifestyle. She clings to self-reliance, makes a point of not looking senile alongside other residents and doesn’t let on that she was an amah – a type of Chinese housemaid by then almost entirely replaced by foreign domestic helpers. And as for Roger, while adjusting to life at home alone he becomes ever more dutiful in caring for the old lady, taking her to a cafe and to the park, joining in elderly centre activities and even inviting her to a film premiere. When he’d had heart surgery a few years earlier, she was there for him; it’s the least he can do to return help now.
Under Hui’s watch, the story of Ah Tao and Roger is never pushed into sentimental overload. As she depicts Ah Tao ageing and in decline, Hui employs nimble direction that combines conventional narrative with documentary-like scenes and careful, telling vignettes. Roger’s first move at home after Ah Tao’s hospitalisation is to read the manuals for household appliances, for instance, and later on he and his friends reminiscence as they share an ox tongue she’d cooked and left in the freezer. Hui also employs the gentle humour she often injects into her pictures – one fun running gag relates to the dowdy Roger looking like a tradesman. And small details throughout demonstrate the Leung family’s dependence on Ah Tao and younger family members’ respect for her talents and dedication.
Deanie Ip and Andy Lau took their performances to new heights with A Simple Life, with Ip especially charming in her down-to-earth role. Ah Tao’s transition to ill health is rendered impeccably by Ip, who keeps up a quietly charismatic approach throughout. Lau meanwhile drops all superstar style as a plain-looking fusspot and workaholic. The chemistry between the two is strong – in real life Ip is Lau’s godmother – and the pairing allows details of the Ah Tao-Roger relationship to simply emerge unspoken in the pair’s screen time together.
Months ahead of its Hong Kong and mainland release, A Simple Life won Ip the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, raising audience expectations of the film at home. Further acclaim followed in early 2012 when the film pulled off a clean sweep of Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Screenplay in the Hong Kong Film Awards – a feat only matched by Ann Hui’s 1995 drama Summer Snow in the awards’ 36-year history.
Tim Youngs
Film director: 
Hui Ann
Year: 
2012
Running time: 
120

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