The fundamental human need for love and reassurance is the driving force of “Aberdeen,” a finely observed dramedy about an extended middle-class Hong Kong family. Impeccably performed by a topnotch cast and with a sharp eye for small moments that make big differences in people’s lives, the pic marks another feather in the cap of Hong Kong hitmaker Pang Ho-cheung (“Love in the Buff”). This elegantly assembled slice of life should be warmly embraced by upscale auds seeking sophisticated entertainment, and ought to perform strongly on its planned May release in Hong Kong and China. Further fest travel and limited commercial distribution outside Asia are also in the cards.
From the gleeful gross-out comedy of his previous feature, “Vulgaria” (2012), Pang has spun the dial in the opposite direction. Though it contains delightful comic touches and some arresting fantasy sequences, “Aberdeen” is played in a quiet and thoughtful key; it’s pleasing to see family drama that doesn’t require histrionics and melodrama to depict emotional frailty and fractured relationships.
Pang’s screenplay commands immediate attention with snapshots of the Cheng family. Middle-aged Wai-ching (Miriam Yeung) works as a tour guide at a museum, where her commentary on British involvement in Hong Kong is upstaged by a know-it-all visitor. Wai-ching’s doctor husband, Yau Kin-cheung (Eric Tsang), is engaged in an affair with Van (Dada Chan), a much younger nurse.
Happier, at least on initial appearance, is Wai-ching’s handsome brother, Wai-tao (Louis Koo), a teacher who believes physical beauty is the key to success. That very equation is now affecting his wife, Cici (Gigi Leung), an actress-model whose first flush of youth is coming to an end. Worse still, Wai-tao does not consider their young daughter, Chloe (Lee Man-kwai) to be beautiful, and is planning a secret DNA test to determine if he’s really her father.
Speaking of paternity, neither Cheng sibling enjoys a close relationship with their father, Dong (Ng Man-tat), a sprightly widower who started out as a fisherman before a conflict involving his father resulted in a radical career change to Taoist priest. On the surface it seems Wai-ching and Wai-tao disapprove of Dong’s long-term relationship with Ta (Carrie Ng), a nightclub hostess who’s no spring chicken, but who is still very much younger than Dong.
The message that hope for a better future depends heavily on reconciliation with the past is nothing new, but this timeless theme is handled exceptionally well. Pic hits the emotional bull’s-eye in such scenes as Wai-ching finally plucking up the courage to ask her father an important question; Ceci contemplating an act of prostitution with hunky stranger Dan (Shawn Yue); and Kin-cheung realizing what he’d be throwing away by leaving Wai-ching for Van.
A couple of very funny scenes in which Wai-tao discusses “Star Wars” trivia with an old school buddy (Chapman To), and a dream involving Chloe and a Godzilla-like incarnation of her pet lizard, are very nicely folded into the big picture about personal and family relationships. Beautifully composed widescreen images by lenser Jason Kwan and a lush strings- and piano-based score by Peter Kam are the standouts of a tip-top technical package.