Close up with... Ann Hui

Updated: 6 Apr 2012
Close up with... Ann Hui

For someone who always shies away from the public spotlight, Ann Hui On-wah, the veteran filmmaker who has turned out classic after classic in her 30-plus-year career in the industry, is perhaps far too talented for her own good. Her latest masterpiece, ‘A Simple Life’, is a quiet drama on a middle-aged film producer’s (Andy Lau) efforts to care for his family’s elderly amah (Deanie Ip) – a traditional kind of domestic maid who commonly serves a household over its various generations – during her twilight years.

What attracted you to this story at first?
I was attracted by its themes of ageing and master-servant relationships. The type of housekeeping arrangement portrayed in the film is more or less extinct nowadays; the modes of human interactions have really changed with time. As for ageing, it’s something that I have to confront all the time because my mother is getting older and older. At the same time, I’m getting old myself, so I’m also starting to contemplate what the right attitude [of facing old age] should be. It’s a topic that’s very close to my life.

In your film, Lau’s character brings Ip’s to a movie premiere. Do you plan to bring your mother to see ‘A Simple Life’?
My mother has a different way of looking at ageing than I do – she feels indignant about getting old. And because she’s actually old, there’s no way you can force her to accept it. If I bring her to the premiere she may well pass out or something. She may think: [in heightened voice] are you giving me hints? Are you thinking of putting me in an old people’s home? [Laughs] I’m really worried about that!

Your 1995 film, ‘Summer Snow’, was also about ageing and death. How have you changed as a filmmaker since then?
I guess I’ve improved a little. I may not [always] have a substantial idea of exactly what I want but when I come across the right idea, I’ll know. I don’t need to have everything pre-planned and I feel more content to explore new ideas on the set. I’m enjoying the freedom to discover.

Do you see yourself as an auteur now?
I’m starting to slowly turn into one. I’m starting to find my ways. But it’s a real pity that I’m not young any more. It’s too late to have found [my ways].

What’s been the best part of making ‘A Simple Life’?
I think it’s important to always improve, so my happiest realisation from this shoot is that my model of experimentation – which I began with ‘The Postmodern Life of My Aunt’ (2006) and continued with ‘The Way We Are’ (2008) – is now showing obvious improvement. The approach has matured to the extent that the new film is winning awards and acclaims. Now the major danger that I’m facing is that this film may be getting too many honours – and that I may have been rated too highly by the public. Adding to that the publicity that I’ve recently been doing for this film, I’m starting to get recognised on the streets – which is an extremely uncomfortable experience for me.

No way! You must have been recognisable in public for a very long time now.
But this period has been crazy – it’s killing me. People smile at me for no reasons on the streets! Nobody looked at me in the past. If the film turns out to be a success, the situation may get even worse!

Well, I’m sure you’ll get used to it soon.
The only consolation is that they’ll forget you after a while and things will return to normal. It’ll be fine then. Edmund Lee

Ann Hui won Best Director for ‘A Simple Life’ at the 48th Taipei Golden Horse Awards last year. Both Andy Lau and Deanie Ip also won Best Actor and Best Actress respectively. ‘A Simple Life’ is showing at selected cinemas now, read the Time Out review here.