Dir. Ann Hui, Hong Kong, 2011, 118 mins, in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles
Cast: Andy Lau, Deannie Yip, Dennis Chan
Review by Delme Stephenson
Released in Hong Kong in 2011 the film has roamed the international film festival circuit winning numerous awards upon its passage. At the 31st Hong Kong Film Awards, it swept the board, while at the Venice film festival Deannie Ip picked up the Best Actress Award. Although A Simple Life was entirely overlooked at the 2012 Academy Awards it deserves praise. Quite simply, it’s a powerfully understated and entirely honest affair.
Inspired by real events the film explores the relationship between Ah Tao (Deannie Ip) and Roger Leung (Andy Lau). Ah Toa has served the Leung family for several decades. While most of the family have moved to the United States she solely concentrates on looking after Roger – a single middle-aged businessman working in the higher echelons of the Hong Kong film industry. Returning home from work one day Roger finds that Ah Toa has suffered a stroke, after rushing her to hospital she tells him she wishes to resign from her position. Upon her wishes Roger allows her to move into a nursing home run by a family friend. As Ah Toa health begins to deteriorate Roger begins to realise the true extent of how much she means to him.
Director Ann Hui adds a wonderful layer of authenticity to proceedings. She shows the viewer a different side to a Hong Kong which is usually visually depicted as the epitome of modernity. Instead of expansive skylines and innovative architecture we are welcomed to care homes bathed in harsh white light, while all other interiors and exteriors are shot in colours that have been muted or dulled. Hue also takes her time in telling her story with well composed scenes that move along unrushed.
A Simple Life’s intended unassuming visual naturalism is in tandem with its character-based study. It is a sentimental tale that is shot and acted without the need or care for melodrama, which makes it all the more affecting. Both Deannie Ip and Andy Lau portray their characters with a dignity that is not only remarkable but admirable.
A Simple Life is about the changing terms of a relationship and the reality of a situation that many people will have to face. Let’s just hope when the time comes – in the twilight of our years or as caregivers – we have the courage and spirit to act accordingly.
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