A Simple Life
A Simple Life
Directed by: Ann Hui
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Storyline For A Simple Life
Since her teenage years, Chung Chun-Tao has worked as an amah - a servant - for the Leung family. Known as Ah Tao, she witnessed every aspect of the family's life. Now, after 60 years of service, she is looking after Roger, who works in the film industry and is the only member of the family still resident in Hong Kong. One day Roger comes home from work to find that Ah Tao has suffered a stroke. He rushes her to hospital, where she announces that she wants to quit her job and move into anursing home. Roger researches the possibilities and finds her a room in an establishment run by an old friend. Ah Tao moves in and begins acquainting herself with a new 'family': the brisk but fundamentally kindly supervisor Ms Choi and a motley crew of elderly residents Giving ever more time and attention to Ah Tao's needs and pleasures, Roger comes to realise how much she means to him. -- (C) China Lion
Featured Review For A Simple Life
Ann Hui's glorious new film A Simple Life is based on a true story which is clearly close to the director's heart. The film is acted and shot so beautifully that you feel at times you could be watching real people in a documentary. Touching, charming and melancholy, it is an understated portrayal of deep loves and relationships that mean everything to us but go unspoken for so much of our lives.
We will all get old. That is just an inevitable fact of life that we all have to face. And with getting old also comes a whole host of other problems that affect our independence. What happens when your whole life has been about caring for others and you are no longer able to continue doing that? Life becomes somehow meaningless unless the people around you are able to adapt and create a new role for you in their busy lives.
This is exactly what happens in Ann Hui’s A Simple Life. Ah Tao (Ip) has been a servant to the same family in Hong Kong for sixty years since she was orphaned as a little girl. Over the decades most of the family has emigrated to the US and now only Roger (Lau) remains living and working in the city with Ah Tao looking after him and their cat. Roger is a busy man and works in the film industry as a producer, work that takes him away from Hong Kong on a regular basis. Returning from a trip one day, Roger finds Ah Tao has suffered from a stroke and has her rushed to hospital. Ah Tao decides that she wants to retire from serving and asks Roger to be put into a home. Soon the roles reverse and Roger has to care for Ah Tao whilst also learning how to fend for himself.
And that is pretty much the entire story. So simple indeed! But in fact it is so much more than that. The film opened to rapturous praise in Hong Kong and also internationally winning Deanie Ip the Venice International Film Festival award for Best Actress for what truly is the performance of a lifetime. Ip is immediately likable as the funny, caring and ultimately fragile Ah Tao and you genuinely fear for her wellbeing throughout the film. The cinematography highlights this fear fantastically, by suggesting and hinting at danger everywhere and you pray that everything will work out well for her. However Ann Hui is very careful not to let this happen and keeps the action one hundred percent believable, never once allowing the film to become overly sentimental as life itself rarely is. The old people’s home is a business, and the inhabitants have to try hard to forge friendships and carve out some kind of normal life for themselves in what little time they have left there. Whilst this may seem very foreign to us and although we consider that we take better care of our elderly population the film makes you question whether you really are doing all that you can to care for your own loved ones.
Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, who is best known for his action roles in films such as House of Flying Daggers and the Infernal Affairs trilogy, delivers a composed and measured performance as the master Roger, showing us how one man’s world depends entirely on the health of someone else. Deanie Ip is in fact, Lau’s real godmother and the chemistry between them is incredible. Roger and Ah Tao know everything about each other and have fun reminiscing on the time they have shared together and you see how difficult it must be for someone like Ah Tao to share all of the family’s dearest memories but remain an outsider due to her place and the fact that she is not related to them.
As Ah Tao’s health deteriorates, Roger cares for her like she is his mother and essentially her role has been that of a matriarch for him as she has seen him grow up every day for forty years. Together they laugh about all of the potential lovers they had in their respective lives and Roger teases Ah Tao in a flirty, familiar way winding her up about the men she now lives with at the home and asking her why she never got married and moved away.
To balance out a lot of the sadness in the film are moments of humour and A Simple Life has some genuinely laugh out loud scenes showing us that jokes about bureaucracy, the way we perceive ourselves and the film making industry travel across all continents. There are a few drawbacks, the most major one being that although this film is about a simple life, it runs for nearly two hours which at times does feel overly long. However, it’s ultimately a joy to float along in Roger and Ah Tao’s charming, funny and very moving world.