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I saw this film during the film festival in Norway; it's been a long,
long time since I watched a movie which captivated me even after the
credit started to roll.
It's a movie which primarily focus on every little moment of an elderly woman, but it is never a dull moment as the first impression might seem. It's a movie which really drives you to care for the characters in a natural way as opposed to many films where they "force" you with "natural" gimmicks. No, this movie broke most typical western styles, but at the same time made it entertaining and thrilling.
It's a movie where there're no explosions, no foresight drama or no extreme twists... it's truly, a simple life, which showed me how simple it can be to be humble, and care for those we love.
The Palm Springs Film Festival ended with a day that included the best films of the fest. A Simple Life was on the list and was the icing on the cake of this great festival. This is a film about our connections to those we love, those we hardly know, and to ourselves. It is a sublimely graceful work and truly seamless. Deannie Yip, plays a maid who has worked for a family for many, many years. When she falls ill she moves to a long term care facility. Her struggle to move into her new role as an "ill person" is completely in keeping with what we know about her character. Great acting! The relationships she shares with the family members she's worked for are studies in the nuances of intimacy. Directed by Ann Hui....it's no wonder she's said to be "Asia's most important female director".
Ann Hui's "A Simple Life" is a poignant and melancholic film about the
relationship between an old servant and her companion, a successful
film producer to whose family the servant had been in service with. It
is a beautiful, touching, and, more importantly, human film. It lives
and breathes its own life with the help of the cast and crew involved.
The performances by Andy Lau as Roger the man and especially Deannie Yip as Ah Tao complement the movie's atmosphere as a whole. It is a warm, homely and crystal-clear one subtly quiet, slightly louder when there's more people around. This film's screenplay relies more on the look on the actors' faces rather than relying on dialogue. This is a good thing. It allows the audience to focus on the performances in rapt attention. Relying on dialogue/subtitles more than often will distract from the movie. This is one movie which follows my rule for any great movie: subtlety is key. In many dramatic Chinese movies, the piano is a must for every music score, and it is overdone cheesily at many times. For this movie, however, composer Law Wing-Fai knows crucial music timing - the music is not overdone, yet not too minimal, and it knows when to appear at the right time. Correct.
Hui's focused yet calm, serene direction basically drives Susan Chan's screenplay right at home. Hui seems to have learned a thing or two about human drama from greats like Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa it is put into terrific use here. But Yip's performance as the altruistic Ah Tao is simply wonderful; her face and body language speak more than herself, her vocal qualities ranging from sharp balking to solemn calm. She is the heart of the movie, alive, beating and like her, moving quietly along as her life goes by. Lau is also very good here, being more stoic than usual but hiding uneasiness within his eyes.
There is no great story without good characters, and "A Simple Life" has two great characters that drives the movie. Roger is a successful film producer, his whole family has migrated to America, and he's seemingly living the high life with his wealthy friends (featuring many non- intrusive cameos by Chinese celebrities including humorous ones by Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark and Anthony Wong) and yet he is more concerned with Ah Tao than everyone else. Ah Tao is an orphan since World War II and has since been serving Roger's family for four generations without expecting any sort of compensation in return. Roger doesn't mind taking care of Ah Tao as everyone else progresses around him the same way Ah Tao doesn't mind living her life on her own at an old folks' home without Roger to help her around after a stroke attack she feels guilty if he did that. The two characters are bonded, play with, even depend on each other as if they're the only two people who understand each other. A sort of mother-son love, but more powerful. Compare with later scenes with Roger and his real mother and you'll see the difference. I'm not implying Roger's real mother is a morally bad character, far from it. The relationship between them is more real and human than I had expected.
Some will call this tedious and pretentious; others will call it pointless. I'm not sure, but I'd love to see movies like this where the characters unwrap the story around them as life progresses with its ups and downs. Sure, there are a few bits and pieces that did not really relate to the main character's story but they make up the story and the characters as a whole shaping this narrative up. It is a thing of beauty. So is life. So is this film - one of the year's best.
Overall rating: 88%
I seriously do not know why it took this movie so long to be in the
cinemas. It is one of the defining works of the year and essentially a
simple movie about simple and unexplored characters of Hong Kong
people. Ms Ann Hui is truly at her very best once again. After winning
awards for The Way We Were, Hui strikes the cord to the highest
potential by casting Andy Lau and former box office queen of 80s Deanie
Ip whose chemistry dates back to almost 23 years old in their last
corroboration. It is truly a delight to sit through a movie like this
and while this being one Hui's most accepted work to the general
public; she never strays away from her principles and values. At its
core, it is a film about human interactions, feelings, relationships
and old age. One day, we will die and old age is a burning topic for
the baby boomer's generation.
Deanie Ip puts in a career defining performance and as she puts it, acting as an old lady is not difficult at all, as she is just playing herself. The manner she manages to make the audience enjoy her character the Chinese servant of Hong Kong family for 3 generations is impressive to say the least. Life is never easy and sometimes, we just tend to forget those people who work their life within behind the scene, with heart, soul and pure dedication. These are people who gave up on having a family of their own and instead spend their whole life raising other people's families. Nowadays, the loyalty and the servant and master relationships are a lot more different. As mentioned before, Ip's characters work so well because there is an underlying chemistry between Andy Lau and her. Lau puts in an underrated performance that doesn't allow him to overshadow the main character. It is a compliment that it is because of the understated manner Lau manages to approach his character that allows Deanie Ip's the spotlight and attention.
A Simple Life has already won a lot of awards and not to mention plenty of admiration from a new league of fans young and old. Hui has been around a long time and has never strayed from the commercialism of Hong Kong cinema. To finally witness an Ann Hui film making splash at the box office is really as a good a feeling as watching a fine piece of cinema. In many ways this is a true and realistic look at simple aspects of life, characters and old age. It is this simplistic that makes Hui's films so different, enjoyable and ultimately touching. All in all, A Simple Life is a Hong Kong movie and more importantly a movie that takes us along the ride, respects those around us and allows the audience to reflect upon their own lives. Movies like these only comes along once in a generation and while this may not be Hui's best work, but in terms of balancing the needs of the Hong Kong people and her own vision, it is certainly the most accessible of her works. A fine piece of cinematic experience
Neo rates it 9/10
'A simple life' is a film about human kindness. About caring for
others. About harmonious human relationships. Does this sound cheesy?
It's not meant that way. The film shows how caring for one another can
make a difference, but it's never sentimental and there's no tear
jerking at all.
The story centres around A Tao, a housekeeper who cooks and cleans for film producer Roger, who is not married and travels a lot. When returning home from one of his travels from Hong Kong to mainland China, A Tao doesn't open the door. She has had a stroke and after her stay in the hospital, she moves to an old people's home. Roger visits her regularly and gradually they become closer. At the start of the movie they are employer and employee, at the end they are friends.
Director Ann Hui shows this process with small, symbolic scenes. When A Tao serves Roger his food in one of the first scenes, only one word is spoken, when she asks him to move something on the table to make room for the dish she has prepared. The contrast with another key scene, later on in the movie, is huge. After A Tao has recovered from the stroke, Roger takes her to the first screening of his new film and introduces her to movie stars as his godmother. Afterwards, they walk away hand in hand, chattering affectionately about the film business.
A Tao visibly enjoys this party, and the attention she receives from her 'godson'. This is just one of the examples of the wonderful acting by Deannie Yip, a famous actress in the Hong Kong film industry but unknown to the rest of the world. In this film, she seemingly effortlessly plays A Tao first as a humble servant, then as a physically handicapped patient and also as a coquettish lady. How wonderful it must have been for her to receive a 'best actress'-award at the Venice Film Festival for her part as A Tao.
The film focuses on the relationship between Roger and A Tao, and the development of their mutual appreciation. Apart from that, not much really happens. There are some humorous little scenes that will make you smile, as well as some more emotional ones. This is a slow and low-profile film, to be appreciated by a typical art-house audience.
I saw this film as part of the Rotterdam Film Festival 2012. Relatively
long with nearly 2 hours running time, but not long winded at all. How
does this film maker achieve that?? Carefully filmed, very nearby the
two main characters. At the same time it showed an inside view in a
retirement home, and a small view over the fence into the film
The retirement home at hand may look different from similar institutions in our own country, but that is only the surface. Like here in The Netherlands, it is a small population with very different people who did not choose each other, many of them leading vegetative lives. Our first main character (the "amah", a lifelong help) is still relatively active, in spite of her stroke. Being moved to the retirement home was her explicit wish, unwilling to become a burden for the family she served for 60 years. This particular situation is something we cannot imagine in our own world, but apparently it exists there.
The other main characters is the last living son of the family. Though not being blood relatives, we see the two main characters behave like mother and son. To the outside world they explain their relationship as mother and godson, or alternatively as aunt and nephew, whatever fits the situation best. Her position as an "amah" is not known to others than the immediate family members, who all seem to care for her.
The inside view in the film industry is less extensive and mostly concentrated in the beginning, with a hefty meeting about an ever growing budget that some film maker needed, and a subsequent meeting with a bank manager about the fine print in a contract that was ignored by the bank. It merely serves to portray the "son" part in the story, and to explain why he is abroad for longer periods and cannot always find time to visit the retirement home. This has the definite purpose to prevent putting him on display as someone not caring. We see the fact that he really cares confirmed in the way he brings her along to a industry screening of this newly produced film, presenting her as his aunt.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A Simple Life is a beautiful film that tugs at your heart strings not
because of the story but because of the unveiling of the relationship
between a family servant and her 'young master' that she has treated as
her own son.
It is a difficult subject to cover but the gist of the plot is that the servant, ah Tao, suffers from a stroke and goes through a massive lifestyle change from looking after others to become the one being looked after. Deanie Ip's acting is absolutely incredible in that you are not watching her go through the motions, you are actually with her throughout her journey and feel her pain and joy as the film goes on. You can sense the unrewarded joy she gets from looking after Roger to the worries that she goes through to being a burden to him and moving herself to an old people's home and giving up a life of being the carer to being cared for.
Andy Lau's portrayal as Roger is very different from the other roles I have seen him in. It is played subtly and allows the character of ah Tao to really shine through and there is evidently brilliant chemistry between the two and in the film, Roger grows from being a pampered boy used to having ah Tao revolve around his life to a mature man that realises all that she has done for him.
What makes this film so great is the realism in all the scenes and it was not a typical film where you think 'this does not happen in real life'. Also, the focus is not on her medical conditions and subsequent pain from her health but her story and how her life changes and the way she copes and adapts.
Ann Hui captured ah Tao's story beautifully and I came out of the film feeling like I knew her and had shared her life with her from the day she had her stroke to the day that she passed.
Many cameos from many HK stars but liked the way they were written into the film and that they had a part to play and not in the story for the sake of being famous.
An absolute must-see.
Ah Tao, an old maid in Hong Kong who have served Roger's family for
four generations suffering stroke that make her deciding to retire and
move into old people's place. She recover her stroke there, learns many
thing and also is treated well. Every once a week, her master Roger
visits her and accompanies her to take a walk. Sometimes, Roger's mom
also comes to visit Ah Tao and bring her many useful things. Roger's
family really love Ah Tao and feel thankful after what she has done for
them about 60 years long by taking care of their family.
'A Simple Life' have shown that a simple story could give good impression and enjoyable to watch. The storyline is not complicated at all, the movie goes on slowly and very detail. Ann Hui as a director tries to make it safe and straight without any meaningful conflicts which sometimes could make audience feels bored watching it. The relationship between Roger and Ah Tao built really well, it shows how they support and take care one another even sometimes telling jokes. Credits should be given to Andy Lau and Deannie Yip, their acting is so natural as two characters who has known each other for a long time. Overall, 'A Simple Life' is a memorable Chinese movie I've seen recently. Actually I felt exhausted during watching 'A Simple Life' because of it's slow plot but when I rewind what I just saw, the movie isn't bad at all and has so much lesson to be learned from it. It teaches audience to respect and appreciate people who has done good things in lives and not forgetting their merit.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Those who have watched "The way we are" (2008) will know exactly what
to expect from today's Ann Hui films that are delightfully free of
sappy melodrama. In that film we share the ordinary, everyday life of
several sibling-linked families, some more affluent but not really
rich, others less fortunate but not quite on poverty line. There is no
manipulation of the audience's emotions, but towards the end, there is
one scene in which the affluent uncle (played beautifully by KO
Chi-shum), hitherto quite typically no-nonsense business-like (although
there is no sign of his looking down on poor relatives),
matter-of-factly said to his bright sister-son something to the effect
of "Don't worry if your exam results are not good enough to get you
into university here. We (he and another uncle) will finance your
university education abroad. That's the least we can do to reciprocate
how your mother looked after us when we were small". The very casual
way he said this is enough to bring a lump to your throat.
"A simple life" rings true in the same way genuine emotion does not need melodramatic manipulation.
As the last of a trilogy loosely, thematically linked ("my model of experimentation", said director Ann Hui) with the aforementioned and "The post-modern life of my aunt" (2006), "A simple life" is based on producer Roger Lee's true story with domestic maid Tao who had been part of his life from day one, and became a default mother when his entire family emigrated to the US. In the film, Deannie Yip and Andy Lau are pitch-perfect as Tao and Roger, drawing from their numerous previous screen corroborations as mother and son. In an interview with Time Out, Hong Kong, director Ann Hui also intimated that on the process of aging, she has deep personal experience with her own mother. In the film, Roger took Tao to a premiere of a film he produced, but Hui said she had second thoughts about doing the same with her mother, fearing that the reaction might be "Are you giving me hints? (about putting her in an old folks' home)"
Starting with Tao going to an old folks' home and ending at her natural death at old age, the simple story is simply told, with surprisingly gentle humour. Through inevitable vicissitudes, human goodness and compassion surface. There are some eccentric characters and flawed human nature to various degrees, but no real villains. As in "The way we are" the warmth that brims over always brings a lump to your throat, such as Tao at the old folks' home receiving a call from Roger and friends at a card game, thinking of her middle-aged men that she had know since they were little kids.
"A simple life" is a film that is true to life. An added bonus to local viewers is a delightful proliferation of cameos from household names in the Hong Kong cinematic scene.
This is a simple film - two main characters with no blood relation and
yet deeply connected to each other - and presumably made with a modest
budget. It is slow, and arguably a tad long (but I am OK with it), but
as the story evolves I begin to care about them.
As a film it is a great antidote to the sex, violence, intriguing plots, and CGI (I must admit I like some of those too) that we are so used to on the big screen these days. Director Ann Hui indicated the story was inspired by true events and I believe her. What makes this story unique is we are looking at love, respect and a feeling of duty and obligation between two human beings as if they were mother and son - but they are not. Instead, what started out as a servant-master relationship transcended itself to become something more sublime when the care-giver became incapacitated and the table was turned. When this happened the roles were reversed and yet it happened in such an unforced, natural and leisurely fashion.
There are tear-jerking moments, of course, but they came in such an unpretentious manner. The ending is as you would expect when age and illness took their toll on Tao Jie, played by Deannie Yip. And yet, I finished watching the film feeling uplifted, and with a strong sense of hope on humanity.
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