In Competition for the White Mulberry Award for First Time Director
The Sunny Side of the Street
白日青春 (Bak Yat Ching Chun)
Hong Kong, 2022, 112’, Cantonese, Urdu
Directed by: Lau Kok-rui
Screenplay: Lau Kok-rui
Photography (color): Leung Ming-kai
Editing: Matthieu Laclau, Yann-shan Tsai
Production Design: Tsui Lok-yi
Music: Lam Kwan-fai, Julian Chan
Producers: Vinod Sekhar, Soi Cheang, Winnie Tsang, Peter Yam
Cast: Anthony Wong (Yat), Sahal Zaman (Hassan), Endy Chow (Hong), Inderjeet Singh (Ahmed), Kiranjeet Gill (Fatimah), Fire Lee (Wai), Lau Shek-yin (Sin)
Date of First Release in Territory: March 30th, 2023
Hong Kong has always been a city of outsiders. Even a large percentage of the ethnically Chinese population have mainland China roots, whether through immigration or through previous generations. However, it’s also a city where, like most places with an ethnically homogenous population, some of its people can be prejudiced towards outsiders. Though he has lived in Hong Kong for the past 15 years, Malaysia-born director Lau Kok-rui has a first-hand perspective of being an outsider in Hong Kong, from both his own experiences and making short films about Hong Kong’s migrant community.
That explains the strong sense of empathy felt throughout his feature directorial debut, The Sunny Side of the Street. The story begins from a traffic accident involving taxi driver Yat (Anthony Wong) and Pakistani refugee Ahmed (Inderjeet Singh), who lives in a refugee community near Yat’s home with his wife and young son, Hassan (Sahal Zaman). Despite being a refugee who literally swam to Hong Kong from the mainland decades ago, the bitterly entitled Yat looks down on refugees like Ahmed and tries to use his connections within the police department to pin the blame on Ahmed. When the conflict leads to another traffic accident that results in Ahmed’s death, Yat’s guilt drives him to offer help to Ahmed’s family. However, he gets more than he bargains for when a brush with the law sends him and Hassan on the run.
Lau cleverly uses the road movie archetype to depict the ever-drifting nature of its two protagonists, two people who share more than they both care to admit despite being from different ethnicities and even generations. Yat and Hassan’s budding father-son relationship is in direct contrast to Yat’s broken relationship with his police officer son Hong, whom he left behind in the mainland years ago when he smuggled into Hong Kong. Yat’s choice to help Hassan doesn’t just stem from sympathy or guilt towards what happened to Ahmed; Yat believes that helping Hassan is his way for redeeming his failings as a father to Hong. Anthony Wong gives a powerfully subtle performance, imagining Yat to be a man who creates a tough-talking exterior to hide the guilt that torments him within. He also has great rapport with young Sahal Zaman, whose performance as young Hassan has earned him recognition at this year’s local film awards.
The key to understanding Lau’s intention with The Sunny Side of the Street may lie in its Chinese title. Roughly translated as “Youth in Daylight”, it’s a composite of Yat and Hassan’s respective Chinese names, which were in turn from Yuan Mei’s poem Moss. The short poem goes like this: “Where sunlight does not reach / is where moss springs on its own / Though its flowers are tiny as rice / they learn to bloom like peonies.” (Note: In this poem, the word for “moss” is the same as the word for “youth”).
Hassan may be forced to grow up in the dark as a refugee in Hong Kong, but he continues to thrive thanks to his resilience. Lau’s message doesn’t just apply to the refugee community in Hong Kong – it’s one that can apply to outsiders, marginalised people, or just ordinary people who fight every day to survive this cruel world.
Born and raised in Malaysia, Lau moved to Hong Kong in 2008 for university. After studying under filmmakers such as Tammy Cheung and Soi Cheang, Lau made his first short film in 2015 with Let’s Get Lost, an entry in the Fresh Wave short film competition. In addition to directing short films, Lau has co-written several TV series and co-directed episodes of marital drama Till Death Do Us Part. The Sunny Side of the Street is his first feature film.
2022 – The Sunny Side of the Street