濁水漂流 (Juk Seui Piu Lau)
Hong Kong, 2021, 112’, Cantonese
Directed by: Jun Li
Script: Jun Li
Photography (color): Leung Ming-kai
Editing: Heiward Mak, Jun Li
Art Direction: Albert Poon
Music: Wong Hin-yan
Producer: Mani Man
Cast: Francis Ng (Ho Kei-fai), Tse Kwan-ho (Master), Loletta Lee (Chan Mui), Cecilia Choi (Ms Ho), Chu Pak-hong (Dai Shing), Baby Bo (Lan), Shaun Chen (Ka Fei), Will Or (Muk), Yu Mo-lin (Sister Hoi), Cecilia Yip (Muk’s mother)
Date of First Release in Territory: April 4th, 2021
Plights of the homeless come into sharp focus in Drifting, the second feature from rising talent Jun Li. Set in Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong’s poorest districts, Li’s picture follows an ex-prisoner, Fai (Francis Ng), as he rejoins street sleepers in the neighbourhood and faces injustice.
Early on, Fai pulls together a place to stay alongside others, but the police and cleaners charge in and forcibly remove everyone’s belongings. After the group find a new location under a flyover and set up wooden huts there, members of the small community and a helpful social worker (Cecilia Choi) butt heads with officialdom in pursuit of not just compensation, but an apology too.
The close-knit people sleeping rough also include Master (Tse Kwan-ho), one of the Vietnamese boat people still living in limbo decades after arrival in Hong Kong; Chan Mui (Loletta Lee), a club hostess turned dish washer; and a nonverbal young man given the name Muk (Will Or), who with Fai develops somewhat of a father-son bond. Together members of the group endure not just the humiliation of struggling to get an apology, but also condescending attitudes of others in society, the threat from gentrification in the district, and risks to personal safety.
Jun Li based Drifting on a 2012 case in which 19 homeless people settled for meagre compensation following a clearance operation but couldn’t get an apology to go with it. While the inspiration may have happened years ago, such cases remain in the minds of Hongkongers as operations against the homeless continue to make headlines. For his part Li takes a matter-of-fact approach to the situation in Drifting, presenting the street sleepers without finger-pointing on their backgrounds or choices. While some of the situations depicted are deadly serious, like the use of heroin by Fai and others, the picture also brings in lighter moments. The street sleepers show camaraderie and are eager to help each other out, Fai and Muk sneak into a skyscraper’s building site to survey their surrounds, and there’s a steady stream of oddball visitors. Appearances by a couple of well-known Hong Kong figures – a Sham Shui Po restaurant owner known as Brother Ming, who donates food to the homeless daily, and guitar-playing activist priest Franco Mella – meanwhile pop up to raise the sense of reality in the tale.
Drifting also benefits from a superb cast. Top-billed Francis Ng gives one of his strongest performances as the destitute and principled Fai, a figure who shuffles through physical pain, holds on to memories of his dead son and tries to kick addiction through methadone treatment. Loletta Lee and Tse Kwan-ho also hold significant parts, with Tse in particular made up to play an ageing character with decades of hardship and family separation behind him, and emerging talent Will Or impresses in an enigmatic, mute role.
Some viewers of Drifting may draw their own connections between the struggles of the homeless on-screen and wider issues and discontent in Hong Kong society. But no matter how it’s taken, Jun Li’s film offers a vital community portrait. As Hong Kong’s new generation of directors strive to inject social drama and pressing concerns into their works, Drifting stands out for its keen observation on one of the city’s most marginalised groups.
Jun Li studied journalism in Hong Kong and gender studies at Cambridge. In 2017 his short film Liu Yang He won the Fresh Wave Award and Best Director in the Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival. He made his feature-directing debut with Tracey (2018), which received nine Hong Kong Film Awards nominations, and followed it with Drifting (2021). He has also been a reporter, a playwright, an actor, an essayist and a film critic.
2018 – Tracey
2021 – Drifting