Starring: Aaron Kwok Fu-shing, Charlie Young Choi-nei, Annie Liu Xin-you
Director: Yim Ho
Category: (Cantonese and English)
Floating City is a historical drama without history and a human portrait without humane details.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Yim Ho, the film starts with a miscarriage: a pregnant fisherwoman (Josie Ho Chiu-yee) loses her child amid stormy seas. Fearful that she cannot have more children, she adopts a mixed-race baby, who grows up to become a caring son - known as Bo (Aaron Kwok) - and a loving brother to six siblings.
However, when Bo's father drowns, the children are separated. Bo gets a job as an office assistant at the Imperial East India Company. Hard working and self-reliant, he rises through the ranks and becomes the expatriate-dominated company's first Chinese taipan on the eve of Hong Kong's handover in 1997.
The plot is rich with drama, yet the film lacks an air of authenticity because Yim treats history as merely the backdrop of one man's struggle. The director refuses to meet history head on, throwing only passing glances at events such as the 1967 riot and the 1997 handover without truly immersing the viewer in the social and political complexities of those times.
One example is Bo's response to a friend's arrest during the anti-British protests. Yim brushes aside any questions about Bo's attitude towards the conduct and practices of a colonial trading company with a corny scene where Bo, looking into the mirror, asks himself 'who am I?'. Later in a flashback sequence, the humble Bo tells his British superior that he has been 'raised by the company'. So much for a moral fight for identity.
Kwok and Charlie Young Choi-nei, who plays his wife, both look out of their depth here. However, two supporting actresses light up the film; Paw Hee-ching (pictured below right with Young and Kwok), playing Bo's ageing mother later in the film, delivers a solid performance as an illiterate but strong-willed woman, while Annie Liu Xin-you, as an upper-class socialite who befriends Bo, has never looked so gorgeous on screen.
In the end, Floating City resonates not for its portrait of the city and its past but for its homage to a state of historical ignorance and moral innocence in which we are saved from the despair of living in the worst of times.
Floating City is screening now