Mercury Cinema, Mon 28 Sep
Highly acclaimed film director Ann Hui is the first female to win the Asian Film Awards’ Lifetime Achievement honour, and was named Asian Filmmaker Of The Year at Busan International Film Festival in 2014. Her Career Retrospective opened last night at the Mercury Cinema, as part of the OzAsia Festival, with A Simple Life, which won four awards at the Venice International Film Festival and five at the Hong Kong Film Awards including best film, director, actor, actress and screenplay.
A Simple Life revolves around Roger, (very skilfully played by Andy Lau) and Ah Tao or Sister Peach (played beautifully by Deanie Ip), who has served his family for over 60 years, through four generations. When Roger returns to Hong Kong after ten years in America to head the art department in a filmmaking project, the two live together in his rather modest apartment in Hong Kong.
Ah Tao takes great pride in her position of service, especially her cooking. The film is enriched by the detail of how much care she puts into purchasing ingredients, and preparing and presenting each dish, just as her employer likes it. Roger seems rather self-absorbed and spoiled as he takes for granted what is laid before him, barely acknowledging, much less appreciating his servant.
When Ah Tao has a stroke, we begin to see the truth of the man rather than the indulged boy and the unfolding of the relationship between these two people is the mainstay and pure treasure of this film.
As Roger makes the choice to look after Ah Tao, he must also learn to look after himself and we see him grow to appreciate and acknowledge the loving kindness and commitment, that have been afforded him his whole life. This film is beautifully written, sublimely performed and very sensitively directed and takes the time to let us become part of the character’s lives, without resorting to the kind of clichés or predicable plot complications so often seen in western films.
At two hours it is quite long but easily keeps the audience entranced as we became invested in the wellbeing of our two heroes, learning more about who they have been and who they have become. At times quite confronting in its realism, especially around ageing and illness, the humour, warmth and dignity expressed in the growing connection between these two people, and some of the delightful characters around them, embellishes the story without ever being schmaltzy or artificial.
This is a film about true family, beyond bloodline and the understated simple acts of love that can fulfil a life’s purpose. A simple tale exquisitely told.
Ann Hui – A Career Retrospective continues at Mercury Cinema until Sun 4 Oct.