Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects:
NACinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"The Way We Are" and "All About Love"
By now, almost everyone has heard of the names Wong Kar-wai, Tsui Hark and Johnnie To, but do make way for Ann Hui, whose latest, "A Simple Life", is anything but the simple affair it makes out to be.
Armed with a splendid cast led by Hong Kong veterans Andy Lau and Deanie Ip as a wealthy master and his faithful maid, "A Simple Life" also boasts many special guest stars such as Anthony Wong, Tsui Hark, Sammo Hung and Chapman To, which adds to the overall enjoyment of its delivery of a social tale about ageing, humanity and love.
Lau brings a youthful wholesomeness to the role of Roger Leung, the young master of a big and wealthy family whose lives with his faithful servant Tao Jie (Deanie Ip), who had served his family for 60 years. When Tao Jie is taken by a stroke and becomes incapable of working, she decides to check herself into an old folks' home. Fearing that she would die alone there, Tao Jie soon realises that her love and kindness for the family has paid off when Roger then takes up the mantle of caretaker for her.
At times shocking and at times heartwarming, "A Simple Life" never fails in delivering director Hui's trademark of Hong Kong storytelling, which touches on the subtle but all too real notions of ageing, such as the themes of isolation and loneliness in her 2008 film "The Way We Are". There is never any indication that Tao Jie is afraid that she would die alone and forgotten in the old folks' home, yet her fear is clearly visible in her behaviour and her expressions. In fact, not once in this whole film that any character is seen crying, which in itself is a whole new achievement in acting for Ip, whose quiet performance will keep your eyes drawn to her whenever she appears on screen.
As for Lau, he provides performance that makes it possible for us to relate to. As a man who is not obligated to care for his maid (almost every character voices this fact out at some point) Roger is an especially well-written role, reflecting a modern man's treatment of his servant, such as his work commitments which does not allow him to be with her full-time, yet he also displays a trait that is seldom seen in most, which is the care and support he provides for Tao Jie in repayment for all that she had done for him. These are nuances that Lau successfully captures and not once does it feel farcical.
Hui's cinematography should also be commended on. She does not give either actor or actress a showy introduction or highlight them with different lighting. "A Simple Life" is almost an art house film, with diffused lighting in the long-shots of Hong Kong buildings overhead and huge places with only a single person such as the opening scene of Roger in the train station. Hui is not one to hurry things along and each scene lasts as long as it needs to make an impact. The film is helped along with the calming soundtrack at times, which gives it the charm of classics as opposed to a perpetual sense of foreboding.
"A Simple Life" is a heartwarming affair that may not be to everyone's liking, but it is a movie that should be watched by everyone because it is a testament to Hong Kong filmmaking.Cinema Online, 11 March 2012