A Simple Life

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2012, 12:00am


Starring: Andy Lau Tak-wah, Deanie Ip Tak-han, Qin Hailu, Wang Fuli
Director: Ann Hui On-wah
Category: I (Cantonese and Putonghua)

Heartfelt and sincere, purely Hong Kong in terms of substance yet universal in its emotional appeal, A Simple Life is the year's most unusual, trend-bucking mainstream release. Boasting a script by Susan Chan and the film's producer, Roger Lee Yan-lam, who based the story on his half-century relationship with his family maid, Ann Hui On-wah's latest outing has much to recommend it, despite falling short of fulfilling the rich potential of its subject matter.

In this respect, I am faced with a situation unique in my career as critic, for I was once a frequent guest in the flat shared by Lee and his maid, Tao Jie. It is the same apartment in which much of the movie is shot, giving the drama an extra layer of 'reality' that didn't necessarily jibe with this critic's reality. Not that it should, for A Simple Life is not a documentary but a fictional tale of two individuals and their role reversals as one of their lives comes to a close.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is its window on an aspect of local culture fast receding from Hongkongers' collective memories, for seventy-something Tao (Deanie Ip Tak-han), a member of the household since before the birth of Roger (Andy Lau Tak-wah), belongs to that vanishing class of servants known as amahs.

The two have developed a bond that goes far beyond that of master and servant. It is put to the test when the illness-plagued Tao decides to take up residence in a nursing facility, steering their relationship into uncharted territory.

Their story is so inherently moving that there wasn't the need to pep things up with the inclusion of extraneous 'commercial' bits; to cite two examples, Paul Chun Pui's randy oldster and Tsui Hark's cameo as a scheming director.

Ip and Lau (above), whose many mother-son acting stints over the years are familiar to local audiences, possess unmistakable screen chemistry but are not challenged enough to go beyond their comfort zones.

Perhaps better than any other recent feature, A Simple Life is a sterling example of how to balance the practical demands of mainland-Hong Kong co-productions while successfully retaining a distinctive local identity.

A Simple Life opens tomorrow