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What do movies tell us about what kind of people we are? Imagine the
following: you are an alien from outer space, who is about to get into
the space ship to visit planet Earth. Before you leave, you are
instructed to learn as much as possible about the people and their
culture who live on this planet. Your homework: to watch all the movies
produced in the last year.
Think about what kind of image you would get from looking at what kind of movies we produce and watch as people. There is an abundance of Hollywood movies. You might think we are all American. Or that we imagine to be super heroes. So much special effects. How would our lives look like if they were like Hollywood movies? But of course, our lives are most of the time nothing like Hollywood movies.
Showing a movie that just portrays how we are would be boring. Would it not? Ann Hui doesn't think so. She provocatively titled her latest movie The Way We Are. Ann Hui is perhaps the most gifted story teller in Hong Kong, at least when it comes to film making. The same way Ozu chronicled the lives of Japanese society, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang documented the day-and-nights of Taiwanese people growing up, Ann Hui is the cultural biographer of Hong Kong.
When it comes to Hong Kong movies, most people might think of kung-fu stars, like Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan or Jet Li, or perhaps triad movies, made famous by John Woo, and more recently Johnnie To. Some might even think of Wong Kar Wai. But the films of Ann Hui are those who directly go to the core of what Hong Kong is about - but this core is as most of our lives perhaps unspectacular, mundane, and banal.
Ann Hui nevertheless manages to weave an incredibly rich story detailing the mundane lives of people in a part of Hong Kong that is often sensationalized: Tin Shui Wai. It's a part of town that is considered desolate, characterized by social problems, unemployment, with high buildings (some might think of them as Hong Kong's version of "the projects").
What is worth telling here is a story from a part of society that you otherwise would never see or hear. But that they don't exist in our popular imagination doesn't mean they exist, and it doesn't mean that we shouldn't know about. Most movies have spoiled the way we "consume" them: often slick, highly visualized, with something to grab our attention every three seconds (if not less). This movie by Ann Hui needs to be slowly taken in, with patience.
That is to say, our starting assumption should be that there are really no boring people. That every person has a story to tell, and that when they try to tell you their story, the least you could do is listen to them, with the patience and respect every human being deserves. Because, that's the way we are. Ann Hui, thank you for reminding us of this important lesson.
Unlike all the other Hong Kong action/comedy movies we're used to, this is a relative slow paced drama which offers an insight in the life of an average HK family, in this case the story is centered around a mother and teenage son. They don't have a lot of money and probably can just cope by but they still stay positive in life and this is what the filmmakers wanted to show us. The place of this story is Tin Shui Wai and over the years it has been in the HK news due all sorts of social problems like domestic violence, loneliness, debts, suicides etc. and with this movie the makers showed that -without being paternalistic or dramatic- we most not generalize all the people who live there and there's hope as long your attitude towards life is a positive one.
Tagline: An excellent film about the basics of human beings
Review by Neo: Sometimes, a film does not need to do much, nor does it require something extraordinarily to happen and it can still be a film that can relate, touch and affect one life. While, the usually dependable Ann Hui does not create a masterpiece, but it is probably safe to say that The Way We Are is very much a success story. After the bleakness shown in the city of sadness "Tin Shui Wai" with likes of Besieged City, the little Hong Kong city within borders of the mainland is filled with negative press, distinguishing of hopes and pure darkness. Here, director Hui is smart, by going back to the basics of filming, the very essence of human lives. The method taken is by filming a week or two in life of ordinary people. While it may seems that the film aren't doing much, not going anywhere, the film still somehow leaves the audience wanting more and leaving the credits with a glimpse of hope within the shambles.
Casting a ballet of untried actors in the likes of Bau Hei-Jing as the happy-go-lucky mother who works hard day and night to supporting her teenage son (Juno Leung Chun Lung) as a Duran fruit cutter and packer in the area's Welcome Supermarket. Life is not easy, in fact, it's difficult, but yet, Bau remains cheerful, hopeful and most important of all she is content of herself. On the other hand, we have her son, a reclusive young boy who prefers staying at home than going out. Then there are people who they bum into within their lives like the lonely grandmother living close by, or the random relatives who are much better off than they are. Not exactly a movie about the plot line or clever and intriguing premises, rather it is about the little things that happen in our real lives.
What makes the film work is that Ann Hui is very much a director who looks at human emotions, and the very fact that she does not create or fabricate emotions to affect the audience, but rather creates real emotions about the simple aspects of humanity and the happening. The casting of Bau is top notch, as she is natural enough for the audience to relate towards. Her optimistic nature, despite all that she has gone through makes her extremely human and ultimately realistic. Likewise, as her son, Juno Leung steps in with a good debut performance. In no situation does Leung tries to be acting, but instead remains real and without a moment of laughable overacting. Other supporting actors, such as the old granny, repeatedly making the same dish, further emphasis what happens when you get older and basically how people lives.
The Way We Are, is unlikely to splash any fire into Hong Kong cinema and nor does it attempt to. What Ann Hui is trying to show is that people in Tin Shui Wai are basically human and like all humans, we all need to eat, work and survive. There are little moments of happiness, sorrow, boredom, neutral and ultimately it is there basic human feelings that make this film works. Sometimes, criticizing something may well create some controversial, but at the end of the day, it remains rather subjective and opinionated. What Ann Hui is able to do, is at its very best being able to show something that seem more objective and somehow able to make the audience feel as though they are experiencing the experience firsthand. All in all, The Way We Are succeeds by showing the basic needs of humanity and ultimately, it is a day of reflection of our lives (Neo 2009)
I rate it 9/10
Ann Hui, an internationally acclaimed Hong Kong director, is perhaps
the closer soulmate to Mike Leigh in world cinema today. "The Way We
Are" tells the story of a hardworking, good-hearted widow (Mrs. Cheung)
who is living with his teenage son (Ka-on) in a housing estate in
Tinshuiwai, a suburb regularly featured in the news for all the wrong
reasons - family suicide packs, problem teens abusing drugs and massive
At the start we see the two circling around in a tiny apartment with little communication, each trapped in their own worlds. Cheung works in the fruit counter in a supermarket, while Ka-on spends his summer vacation idling at home waiting for the results of his university entrance exam. Soon we are introduced to Cheung's extended family - then we learn that she spent her young adult life working hard in factories to support her two younger brothers, paid for their education and they've both since moved upward. But before she has her chance, her husband died and left her behind in a poor lower-class suburb.
Cheung soon befriends another widow, Granny, who's just moved in the same building. Granny has her grim tale - she was forced to live on her own after her only daughter died and her son-in-law remarried. Her grandson is now what remains of her "family", but he's sadly out of reach. She begins to imprison herself in her "single elderly" flat until Cheung slowly reaches out to her.
Then the somber tone of the story takes on an optimistic note. Cheung, ever so nurturing, takes Granny in and they soon bond to form their own support network. We also learn that Ka-on, despite the ear-ring and dyed hair, has inherited the strong, resilient and optimistic personality of his mother, ready and able to take up responsibilities to keep his little family together.
The relationship between Cheung and her brothers is also not as remote as it is suggested earlier in the film. While they're no longer as close and the brothers still put their own families before all else, they're here to help Cheung and Ka-on and willing to pay her back by promising to send Ka-on to study overseas if he should fail his exam.
At the end Granny's barriers have broken down, implanting herself in her new "family" and treating Ka-on like the grandson that she's no longer able to see ("Even when I die and become a spirit, I will continue to pray for his well being..") and there's still hope for happiness for both women.
Ann Hui's direction is bare but her fingerprints are everywhere. There are no comedic distraction to pull us out of the morbid tone of her characters' stories (like she did in "Summer Snow", dealing with the grimmer topics of aging and Alzheimer's disease). We instantly know what is in Cheung's mind (wonderfully plays by veteran TV actress Paw Hee-ching, deservedly named Best Actress in the HK Film Award) with every little gestures - that she's appreciative of having a good son with a hint of a smile, a loving expression that knows how life is still good and a light assuring grab of Granny's hand to pull her up from the dark pit of remorse.
While Hui is unique and successful in her own right, I can't help but thinking back to similar characters in Mike Leigh's films - Cheung has the same stubbornness of Poppy in "Happy-Go-Lucky", her relationship with the brothers is akin to the implicit blood-is-thicker-than-water bond Cynthia has with Maurice in "Secrets and Lies" and the overall "plotless" structure of storytelling is very much like "Life is Sweet".
And its lesson and massage maybe the same - that although life is hard for Cheung, Granny and Ka-on, it's still sweet and hope is everywhere as long as we still have the will to look for it.
The literal meaning of its original Chinese title is "the day and night
of Tin Shui Wai", Tin Shui Wai is a northwestern area of Hong Kong and
is noted for its public housing estates, where mostly low-income
families inhibit, Ann Hui's heartfelt picture centers on a single
mother Mrs. Cheung (Paw) and her teenage son Ka-on (Leung), through
their kitchen-sink daily life, it cogently reflects our modern
society's interpersonal relations with spontaneous casualness and
certainly Hui's best work I've ever watched (I have yet to see A SIMPLE
The film runs effortlessly to rotate around Cheung and Ka-on's quotidian doings, Cheung works in a supermarket and Ka-on idles at their boxy apartment since it is summer vacation. Granny Leung Foon (Lai-wan Chan), a new neighbor who lost her daughter recently and her son-in-law remarried, Leung Foon's solitary life is singled out naturally through her entry scenes (buy a paltry portion of beef for herself, the meat vendor even fastidiously complains one of her coins is black and demands a swap), records more closely to her meals (the same beef fried with cabbage being consumed in both lunch and dinner), the artistry is all in the details. Leung Foon is typically protective and penny-pinching, but her heart will gradually open to Cheung and Ka- on, since a near neighbor is better than a distant cousin, among them, a sensitive surrogate family bond is developing and culminating after a tearjerking talking heart to heart on a bus back from a fruitless attempt to visit Foon's grandson.
Meanwhile, the backstory of Cheung and the tacit alienation between Cheung and her mother, her well-off brothers are all steadily unraveling, Cheung is a woman full of pride, she can undertake hardships, she never solicit any remuneration for bringing up two brothers, but her mother thinks it is her tomfoolery to struggle in poverty, this creates a knot between them, but family is always family, there is no grudges among them, Cheung's swallow nest congee betokens that tellingly.
Hee Ching Paw and Lai-wan Chan are pitch perfect in their lifelike performances (which incredibly counters their theatrical training), newcomer Chun-lung Leung is also a force of nature, here is a young boy without any rebellious traits (no gamble, no girlfriend problem, no drug abuse, no religious hindrance), his upbringing is the most laudable feat and yet Hui achieves that by no hyperbole at all. If you are a Hong Kong cinema connoisseur, you will be thrilled to see a cameo from a comely Idy Chan (15 years after her retirement from the screen).
Ann Hui is a tower of strength in current HK cinema scenery, she is less internationally- recognized than Johnny To, but her cannon is so rich and diverse and her unique mastery of humanistic care should enlist her name among the most overlooked directors of all time!
If you want to watch movies about special effects, explosives here &
there or whatever, go rent Ironman or Transformers, this is Ann Hui's
The Way We Are, some of you may complain of boredom, with the lack of
pace in the story flow, I didn't, I wept.
What amazes me the most is it's simplicity, their daily lives, activities, family problems, those things that you might encounter everyday, & how to cherish them. You don't need to be an alien to become interested in this movie, if you feel bored, then this movie is definitely not for you.
I praise Ann's bravery in doing a film about our problems in life, especially in families, & she made me realize there is so much things in life than just fancy, branded goods & not to become enslaved by them.
My vote might be deceiving because this movie is pretty boring unless you actually watch the whole movie you will probably get bore after the first 20 minutes no wait after 10 minutes. However after watching it with tear flowing out of your eye because you're bore to death will you started to like the main character. The strong point of this movie is about characterization, making you feel for the main character and with it show you the good side of humanity. Even though this isn't base on real life story after you watch the movie it will feel like one which is another strong point. While I was watching it I was pretty much bore to death so I can tell why some people give this movie a 1 but if you actually finish it you will enjoy it like I did. In a sense this is like Twilight saga, in which only some people like it while other cry from how worthless it is(my description), The Way We Are will make some people feel emotional about it while other will just turn it off after 10 or so minutes. So if you really want a good movie base on characterization enjoy this one but if you want something surprising or out of place then don't bother with this one. It is just too simple for it to be anything....except a slice of life :).
The movie is one of the most recommended movies especially after it won four awards at the Hongkong Film Award. As many viewers have said, it is a very Hongkongese movie. Although I am not a Hongkongnese,I can relate to the everyday stories in the movie. It may seem boring to most Westerners,but I have to say a good movie can also present a real world in which real people are living a real life. While watching the movie, I smiled a lot and cried a lot.Then I felt hopes in the end.Life is not all about getting what you want.It is also about giving what you can give to the people you love or care.Watching a movie and learning something from it matters more.
I agree this is not a run of mill Hong Kong movie, it was quite well made BUT who wants to watch a movie as boring as this??? The movie line is about life in a typical housing estate in Hong Kong, of not outstanding people leading their normal ordinary lives. Its like a documentary, "fly on the ceiling" type of docu-drama, the problem is this... nothing much happened, just ordinary lives. I am sure if I were a Martian coming to study human beings in Hong Kong, this might be interesting, alas I am not. My be when this is broadcast to space someday some aliens might find it useful to see how we live. But I am sorry Miss Director, this movie, if you can call it a movie, didn't work for me.
Definitely 1 of of 10 for this movie. I'd rather watch an Indian all
dancing and singing movie than to waste my time on this one. I
completely agree with some comments made here, nothing ever happened.
Is his a diary or blog of some ordinary citizens on Hong Kong?
The movie just didn't make any point or statement, it did not make the spark for me to saying this is worth watching.
Definitely a one off bad movie coming out of Hong Kong, I will never miss a good old king fu movie or a good comedy from the likes of Stephen chow, what a good job it was never translated to English for the British here in UK, or the whole nation will die of boredom.
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