A Simple Life

Updated: 6 Apr 2012
A Simple Life

Time Out says

Rating: 5/5

Dir: Ann Hui (2012, 118 min). Cast: Andy Lau, Deanie Ip, Wang Fuli, Qin Hailu

Life simply and gracefully goes on in Ann Hui’s at times gently humourous, often intensely moving but never outwardly sentimental drama. The multiple-award-winning film sees the veteran director achieve tonal perfection in an ongoing thematic exploration that she began with 2006’s ‘The Postmodern Life of My Aunt’ and continued with 2008’s ‘The Way We Are’. ‘A Simple Life’ is a slice-of-life masterpiece dealing compassionately with the inevitable ageing process, the loneliness that comes with it and the human connections that can turn it all into a small, bittersweet triumph. This is one of the year’s best films.

In a subtly emotional performance, Andy Lau plays Roger Leung, a character based on real-life film producer Roger Lee who lends his autobiographical account to this heartfelt story. Having been nursed back to health by Sister Tao (Deanie Ip in her career-best performance) after suffering a heart condition a few years back, Roger – who’s been taken care of by Tao throughout his life, and is now the only member of his family still living in Hong Kong – assumes a kind of filial duty to his elderly housekeeper after the latter suffers a minor stroke. In a selfless attempt not to become a burden to her employer-turned-closest family, the unmarried Tao tenders her resignation after working 60-plus years in the household and moves into an old people’s home. But Roger, who travels frequently for his work, has come to appreciate Tao’s significance, thereby deciding to nurse his servant to the very end and becoming her godson in the process.

Potentially a very heavy drama on a person’s slow waltz towards death, Hui’s realist portrait has benefitted from its determination against the kind of tear-jerking manipulation ubiquitous in similar movies. The episodes of suffering and death are uniformly kept off-screen in the film, which is interspersed with lighthearted moments and well-timed star cameos (highlighted by Tsui Hark and Sammo Hung playing a hilarious version of themselves). It’s as poignant to see Tao holding on to her very particular demands on the domestic details, from cooking to hygienic arrangement, as it is to observe her excitement at the occasional gatherings or phone calls of Roger and his relatives and friends, all the while doing her utmost to soften their worries over her wellbeing. Brimming with love and humanity, ‘A Simple Life’ is also easily the best collaboration between Ip and Lau, who have played mother and son nearly a dozen times in the past three decades. Edmund Lee

'A Simple Life' is showing in selected cinemas now. Read the Time Out interview with director Ann Hui.