Distinction film review: after Ten Years and Trivisa, Jevons Au turns focus on special needs school
This gentle social drama is a modest tale of self-discovery that focuses on a special needs teacher, an underachiever from an elite school and a bad boy who has a brother with a disability
One of the most hotly anticipated titles in Hong Kong cinema is a low-budget film set around a special needs school. While it’s the third local release to focus on educators in less than a year, Distinction offers a quietly inspirational alternative to Checkley Sin Kwok-lam’s corny Our Days in 6E and the fun but unsubtle Big Brother, starring Donnie Yen Ji-dan.
All eyes are on Jevons Au Man-kit, who makes his solo directing debut with Distinction after twice winning best film at the Hong Kong Film Awards in consecutive years – he contributed to the anthology Ten Years and was one of three young directors involved with crime thriller Trivisa. It is widely believed that Au has been blacklisted by Chinese censors for his involvement in these two films.
Whether Distinction secures a theatrical release in China in the end, no one can accuse Au of dealing with politically sensitive material in his new understated human drama. Distinction is set around a “Band Three” secondary school for the least academically able students and focuses on three characters from varying backgrounds who converge at the production of a campus musical.
The storyline follows a special needs music teacher (Jo Koo Cho-lam) burdened by her school’s status; an underachiever from an elite school (Jennifer Yu Heung-ying) who joins the musical just for its extracurricular credit; and a Band Three bad boy (Kaki Sham) with a brother who has a mental disability. While the characters are predictable to a fault, Au does show his aptitude for getting the most out of his partly non-professional cast.
If Au, as some have speculated, has indeed antagonised China and taken himself out of the equation for future lucrative co-productions, it would at least be a small solace for his hometown audience to know that they have a socially conscious and deservedly acclaimed filmmaker to tell their stories. A modest tale of self-discovery, Distinction deserves your attention for having been made at all.
Distinction opens on October 11
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