Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Little Big Master - true story touches the heart

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 March, 2015, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 April, 2015, 1:48pm

Miriam Yeung Chin-wah, Louis Koo Tin-lok
Director: Adrian Kwan Shun-fai
Category: I (Cantonese)

Its English title makes it sound like a kung fu movie, but Little Big Master is actually the sort of "inspired by a true story" drama imbued with positive vibes and messages that you'd expect from Adrian Kwan Shun-fai, whose first three films are titled Sometimes, Miracles Do Happen, Life is a Miracle and If U Care ...

And while the film's Chinese title — which translates into English as "Principal of Five Children" — might be said to lack imagination, at least it gives a better sense of the story, which is about a big-hearted educator who agrees to take on the roles of headmistress, janitor and general dogsbody of a village school with just five students, on a salary of just HK$4,500 a month.

After experiencing particularly trying days at work, both elite school principal Hung (Miriam Yeung Chin-wah) and museum designer Tung (Louis Koo Tin-lok) hand in their resignations on their 10th wedding anniversary, and make plans to travel the world together.

Two months into retirement, however, Hung learns about the 50-year-old Yuen Tin Kindergarten being threatened with closure, and its quintet of students who face an uncertain future. She decides to step in to help keep the school going and give its pupils a quality education.

From day one, Hung is served ample notice that she's taken on a formidable commission. It's not that Siu-suet (Winnie Ho Yuen-ying), Ka Ka (Fu Shun-ying), Chu Chu (Keira Wang Sze-nga) and sisters Kitty Fathima (Zaha Fathima) and Jennie (Nayab Khan) are especially difficult to handle, but money and other problems make it difficult for the children to get to school, never mind concentrate while there.

Undaunted, Hung teaches the lovable little girls to dream and persevere. In the process, the kids get their family to do so, too — and the charming sequences depicting this, such as a scrap metal collector (Richard Ng Yiu-hon) imagining himself as an airline pilot and a bean sprout washer (Mena Asnani) revealing her firefighting fantasy are among a number of scenes in this film that tug at the heartstrings.

The film is based on the true story of Hongkonger Lillian Lui Lai-hung. Director-writer Kwan and co-scriptwriter Hannah Cheung Pui-king had a story that was already dramatic gold and wisely went for a direct, no-frills approach when adapting it to the screen. And although Miriam Yeung is a bona fide Canto-pop megastar, she has an agreeably down-to-earth vibe that gels well with the rest of a cast that's primarily composed of character actors (including Philip Keung Hiu-man, Rain Lau Yuk-chi and Anna Ng Yuen-yee) and newcomers.

The only misstep in this otherwise exemplary film is that it pays too much attention to a subplot about Tung's efforts to finish his final museum project. But when Little Big Master focuses on the caring Hung and her cherubic charges, some truly sublime moments ensue that are guaranteed to warm the cockles of many hearts.

Little Big Master opens on March 19