Hong Kong, 2011-2012
Director: Ann Hui (許鞍華)
Cast: Andy Lau (劉德華), Deanie Ip (葉德嫻), Amanda Qin Hai-Lu (秦海璐), Wang Fu-Li (王馥荔), Paul Chun (秦沛), Anthony Wong (黃秋生)
“A Simple Life,” which won the 31st Hong Kong Film Awards’ five major categories earlier this month, is based on a true story, of its producer Roger Lee (李恩霖) and his family’s late servant Chung Chun-Tou (鍾春桃). The anecdote itself is not necessarily dramatic but, as the film’s title suggests, quite simple. After the Leong family (Lee’s surname has been changed to Leong in the movie) immigrated to San Francisco, the long-serving family maid Chun-Tou - nicknamed A-Tou (阿桃) or Tou-Je (桃姐), played by Deanie Ip - is left in Hong Kong just to look after the young master Roger (Andy Lau). One day, Tou-Je has a stroke, and after recovery, decides to move into an old people’s home.
The film depicts Roger and his family’s affection and care towards Tou-Je and, at the same time, the reality that the younger and healthier ones have their own lives and cannot be with her all the time. Episodes about other residents and a caretaker at the nursing home are thrown in, to emphasize people’s loneliness and, eventually, death.
Roger, a single man, is flying around for his film producing job and often surrounding himself with co-workers and friends, but without Tou-Je at home, he also seems lonely. One of the images which stuck in my mind is Andy Lau slurping instant noodles on his own (whereas before, he enjoyed his favourite dishes prepared by Tou-Je).
“A Simple Life” reminded me of Ann Hui’s another film “The Way We Are (天水圍的日與夜)” as both deal with the reality of families, aging and loneliness. Although the subject matter can be sad and depressing, Hui has added some warmth and hope into both movies so that the aftertaste is not too bitter. I love her way of constructing a touching story out of ordinary people’s ordinary lives, and believe that most viewers, no matter where they are from, can relate themselves to these films to some extent. Having aging parents myself, they have made me think about my own life, my family and what I would do, what I should do...
This is the first film I saw Deanie Ip in. On screen, she portrayed a strong yet cute and humble woman. Andy Lau…though his casual costume looked a bit odd for his age (probably that was how Roger Lee dressed in his real life; there is a scene in which his outfit becomes a joke material)…delivered toned-down yet fine acting; in many scenes, he was successful in oozing out sorrow and kindness just with his facial expression and subtle movement.
In addition to Paul Chun and Anthony Wong who fill supporting roles, there are a lot of cameo appearances by familiar faces of the Hong Kong film industry, including Tsui Hark (徐克), Sammo Hung (洪金寶), Andrew Lau (劉偉強), Chapman To (杜汶澤), Jim Chim (詹瑞文) and Gordon Lam (林家棟). It is relieving to know that Hong Kong can still produce a meaningful movie which is not in the police/crime/triad genre.