White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
Zero to Hero
媽媽的神奇小子 (Ma Ma Dik San Kei Siu Ji)
Hong Kong, 2021, 101’, Cantonese
Directed by: Jimmy Wan
Script: David Lo
Photography (color): Tam Wai-kai
Editing: Curran Pang, Alvin Wu
Art Direction: Li Tsz-fung
Music: Day Tai
Producer: Sandra Ng
Cast: Sandra Ng (So Wa-wai’s mother), Louis Cheung (Fong), Leung Chung-hang (adult So Wa-wai), Fung Ho-yeung (teenage So Wa-wai), Chin Siu-ho (So Wa-wai’s father), Wu Tsz-tung (Tung), Lo Hoi-pang (Grandpa)
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Early in Zero to Hero, a mother rushes her baby to a clinic in Guangzhou, only to be told the child’s future is grim. Haemolytic jaundice is diagnosed, and the doctor says the resulting cerebral palsy means the kid will never walk or feed himself. The mother presses for treatment regardless, however, and so begins her journey in raising not just a son but a future sporting star.
Based on the true story of So Wa-wai, a sprinter who raced for Hong Kong in five Paralympic Games from 1996 to 2012, Jimmy Wan’s Zero to Hero spells out the personal and physical struggles behind an inspiring career on the track. After the initial scenes on the mainland, the story picks up four years later in 1985 after the mother (Sandra Ng) and her child have joined the father (Chin Siu-ho) in Hong Kong. A dramatic scene shows the young So Wa-wai stand up for the first time on his feeble legs, and years later in 1993 his escape from housing estate bullies gives the first glimpse of his running talent. Mum later sees a poster of the Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, and she takes her son to sign up. Once the boy sees the action on the running track, he charges down the straight and gets selected immediately by the Paralympic athletics team coach, Fung (Louis Cheung).
Initial training focuses on the 4x100m event, and in 1996 So runs anchor in the Atlanta Games to help his relay squad win Hong Kong’s first ever Paralympic gold. Four years later in Sydney, the young phenomenon runs the 200-metre dash and claims not just another gold medal but the world record for his category too. Yet while the prospects may seem bright for the athlete, it’s not easy going. Practice is tough, of course, and so too is getting by with the limited support offered for athletes with disabilities. And when the family’s financial situation hits the rocks in 2006 after the father has a fall, the odds are stacked against So to keep performing at peak ability.
By the time he retired due to severe physical pain in 2016, So Wa-wai had become a household name in Hong Kong. Jimmy Wan, making his first feature as solo director, offers a touching and inspirational portrait of the sprinter’s efforts as well as the dedication of So’s mum. The mother’s belief in her child is always clear, and the drama Wan and writer David Lo inject along So’s growth as an athlete proves immensely watchable.
The picture takes assorted diversions from the expected training and competition scenes, like So’s younger brother feeling neglected, the athlete having to pull away from practice to help make ends meet, and a possible love interest in the coach’s sister. And there’s occasional campaigning as characters call for equal pay for Paralympians. Scenes of So’s races are meanwhile well staged, adding to the technical complexity of Wan’s biopic efforts.
Several actors play So as he grows up, with the teenage and adult actors (Leung Chung-hang and Fung Ho-yeung respectively) smoothly portraying the young athlete’s development on and off the track. Louis Cheung offers able support as the coach, while producer Sandra Ng takes on a steadfast, relentlessly encouraging presence. If a single line could set the tone for the picture, it’s one of hers to the young So Wa-wai: “No one treats you like an ordinary person, so become an extraordinary one.”
After graduating from the School of Film and Television at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Jimmy Wan joined the film industry as an assistant director, writer, and associate producer. His early work included I Do (assistant director, 2000) and later he became a frequent collaborator with writer-director Pang Ho-cheung. In 2010, Wan joined forces with Derek Tsang to co-direct Lover’s Discourse, and together they followed it up by co-directing Lacuna (2012). Zero to Hero (2021) is Wan’s solo feature directing debut.
2010 – Lover’s Discourse (co-director)
2011 – The Killer Who Never Kills (co-director)
2012 – Lacuna (co-director, 2012)
2021 – Zero to Hero (2021)