Restrained but soul-enriching meller “The Way We Are” shows Hong Kong life not just as it is, but also as it should be. Vet helmer Ann Hui depicts a warm world situated between Yasujiro Ozu and Ken Loach in a film that blends kitchen-sink drama with poetic minutiae. Pic was released locally to modest but respectable biz in July. Commercial prospects are slim even on Sino turf, but fest circuit aficionados will approach this addition to Hui’s eclectic resume with deserved reverence.
Single mother Kwai (Paw Hee-ching) befriends an aging woman, Leung Foon (Chan Lai-wun), who moves into her apartment building in Hong Kong’s New Territories.
The pair end up working in a vegetable market together, and every time Leung needs help, Kwai is cheerfully on hand. The mild irony is that Kwai finds it easier to assist a complete stranger than to visit her own mother (Chan Lai-hing, in an amusingly glum perf), who is hospitalized with an unspecified and probably not serious affliction. Gentle diversions abound, but the yarn’s secondary strand mainly concentrates on Kwai’s subdued teenage son, On (Leung Chun-lung). Directionless, On obediently attends a Christian fellowship even though he doesn’t believe in God and harmlessly mulls over his future, while adults all throw suggestions at him.
Written by Lou Shiu-wa, the slice-of-life drama moves slowly but allows auds to sink into the narrative, while Hui’s astute eye harbors genuine affection for her subjects. At every opportunity, the helmer wraps the story in reality, including some easily overlooked aspects of daily life: the washing of vegetables, the cooking of food or removing of a shopping trolley from a rack. Like points on a Seurat painting, each addition helps create a rich and, to Hong Kongers, familiar world.
Widescreen cinematography and artful framing by Charlie Lam (“Isabella,” “Eternal Summer”) instantly differentiates pic from run-of-the-mill indie digital lensing. Low-key thesping hits the right naturalistic note, and tech credits are modest but professional.