Life has a way of juxtaposing things.
Life has a way of juxtaposing things. This week marks the release of one of
the year’s biggest video games. Call of Duty is an all-encompassing,
behemoth that has so far blown all of its competition aside. It can
statistically lay claim to being the biggest entertainment franchise in
history. Black Ops 2, the series latest installment, reportedly sold 8 million
copies on opening day alone. That’s just in the UK! Whilst the games maybe fun and exciting, the fact that they
are nothing more than a series of elaborate deaths is pretty saddening. The
lack of life and humans portrayed is underwhelming. When you consider that
people can spend hours on end playing the game it’s, quite frankly,
disappointing. Not to quote the Black Eyed Peas but; where is the love?
So what better a week is there for such a life affirming film like A Simple
Life to be released on DVD.
Ah Tao is an elderly maid who has served her
employers for decades. Respected and loved, she has transcended the simply
notion of a worker and is now considered to be a true family member. Although
most of the family have moved away from Hong Kong she still continues to
care for the youngest son of the family, Roger. Returning from America as an upcoming director
in the Hong Kong movie scene, Roger leads a hectic lifestyle with very little
time for social or domestic interaction. Ah Tao though is more than happy to
look after his small flat, until she suffers a stroke. Although not fatal Ah
Tao, requests to be moved to an old persons home fearing that her profession is
no longer beneficial to her health. The home is initially cold to her and Ah
Tao struggles to adapt but her relationship with Roger during this period,
blossoms into something truly special.
What A Simple Life achieves is exactly what it says in the
title, its a simple film about life. All of life and the emotions it throws at
us are here. Happiness, Sadness, Grief, Bitterness, Anger, Doubt, Love and
death are all presented to us in a thoughtful, respectful manner. What is refreshing
is the reserved use of sentimentality. If this film was made in a Western
country, it is quite possible that it would play the tearjerker card, in a
shallow attempt to pick up an award. This lack of affection actually allows the
film to breathe, giving the characters a real chance to grow into a person of
importance. Yet there is a darkness to A Simple Life. When the old persons home
is first introduced, its occupants are presented to us as being nothing more
than bodies waiting to die. Some of them are literally treated like children,
whilst others are seen as deadwood clogging up the system. Snide comments and
the odd look articulate this so much better than any piece of in depth dialogue
ever could. Obviously a technique borrowed from the great Yasujiro Ozu, director
Ann Hui has created a great modern day equivalent of the legends
Deanie Ip, who plays Ah Tao, is absolutely amazing.
Everything from her walking to basic reactions is just staggeringly executed.
Through years of acting she has managed to recreate a style that is so
convincing that it is genuinely astonishing. In fact that’s probably an
understatement. This performance really has to be seen to be believed. However this wouldn’t be possible if it
were not for the sober performance of Andy Lau. Usually associated with
action fare like Infernal Affairs and House of Flying Daggers,
this is an actor really showing his potential and range.
Despite everything else being generally wonderful, A Simple
Life does suffer from a few inconsistencies. Various intriguing plot points
throughout the film tend to get swept away or just plain forgotten. This
doesn’t necessarily dampen the quality of the film but a bit more wrapping up
of loose ends would be appreciated. Also some issues on morality are mentioned
but never really explored. In hindsight this seems to be a critique on the
chaotic nature of Chinese society. Unfortunately for Ann Hui, directors like Wong
Kar Wai have managed to capture this with much more artistic flair, however
this shouldn’t deter anyone from the film.
A Simple Life is a beautifully explored and crafted film
about old age. A film like this could easily fall into precarious territory,
yet Ann Hui is keen to keep us at a distance. Respected and loved by all her
friends and family, Ah Tao is a character who epitomises the hope that is so
vital to human nature, something that we all need from time to time. The anti
sentiment is the rewarding aspect here, in that we are never asked to feel sad
for the characters, only happiness.