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Hong Kong film director Ann Hui in a still from Keep Rolling (category IIB; Cantonese, Mandarin), a documentary feature directed by Man Lim-chung about her life and work.

ReviewKeep Rolling movie review: Ann Hui documentary is a must-see for Hong Kong movie fans in this surprisingly funny portrait

  • Keep Rolling is an insightful, deeply personal and even amusing look at the life and work of Hong Kong film director Ann Hui, now 73
  • For many who have grown to love Hui’s films over the decades, it is especially poignant to learn of her personal struggles in life

4.5/5 stars

One of the greatest directors in Hong Kong film history receives the close-up profile she has long deserved with this enthralling documentary. An insightful, deeply personal and even surprisingly funny look at the life and work of Ann Hui On-wah, now 73, Keep Rolling also marks the feature directing debut of Man Lim-chung, the production designer and art director who first worked with Hui on the 2002 film July Rhapsody.

A six-time winner of best director at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Hui has led a long and illustrious career – albeit not quite financially profitable, for a legend of her stature – since she turned to film directing in the late 1970s. Given the scope of her oeuvre, Man must be lauded for giving a fairly digestible overview in his film’s first half, where he interweaves excerpts from Hui’s works with succinct sound bites from industry veterans, which are refreshingly devoid of platitudes.

Man started shooting the documentary in 2016 during the making of Our Time Will Come, Hui’s humanistic espionage drama, and his own film offers several lucid glimpses into the master filmmaker’s artistic tempers on set – a rare sight in documentaries about filmmakers. Man and his crew then caught up intermittently with Hui until around September 2020, when she picked up a lifetime achievement Golden Lion from the Venice film festival.

Despite being admired far more for her films than her low-key personality, Hui comes across here as an uncharacteristically charming subject. An affectionate portrait of an eccentric genius, Keep Rolling knows exactly when to turn its cameras on to capture Hui’s essence – as, at one point, they followed her out for a quiet smoke on an under-lit balcony, away from the media circus unfolding behind her, when she was on Our Time Will Come’s hectic China promotion tour.

For the many local audiences who have grown to love Hui’s films over the decades, it is especially poignant to learn of the director’s personal struggles in life. These range from her failed attempts as a commercial filmmaker in the late ’80s to her relationship – once-conflicted, since full of love – with her very strict Japanese mother, as well as Hui’s own regrets about dedicating her whole life to filmmaking and passing over opportunities to start a family of her own.

The 10 best films of Ann Hui, Hong Kong’s most celebrated director

As Hui considers slowly winding down her filmmaking career due to her declining physical condition, Keep Rolling will remain a must-see for fans of Hong Kong cinema. This is an enduring portrait of one of Hong Kong’s most beloved film icons, peppered with candour, humour and unexpected poignancy.

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