×

A Simple Life

This well-observed, pleasantly meandering dramedy requires a measure of patience.

With:
With: Andy Lau, Deanie Ip, Qin Hailu, Wang Fuli, Paul Chiang, Leung Tin, Wendy Yu, Eman Lam, Elena Kong, Jason Chan, Hui So-ying, Anthony Wong, Chapman To, Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark. (Cantonese, Mandarin, English dialogue)

Suffused with the gentle, unforced humanity viewers have come to expect from Hong Kong helmer Ann Hui, “A Simple Life” is a tender ode to the elderly, their caregivers and the mutual generosity of spirit that makes their limited time together worthwhile. Fittingly for a film about the challenges and rewards of looking after the sick and aging, this well-observed, pleasantly meandering dramedy requires a measure of patience, and some judicious trimming would improve its chances for export. But the moving, never tearjerking lead performances by Andy Lau and Deanie Ip rep strong selling points for Hui’s following at home and abroad.

The universal subject of growing old has here inspired a film of near-universal appeal, though its accessible approach to slice-of-life material might hinder its fest progress after high-profile bows at Venice and Toronto. Pic does hold special interest for Asian film buffs; a fact-based account drawn from the life of Hong Kong producer Roger Lee (who co-wrote the script with Susan Chan), it’s dotted with cameos by such industry names as Tsui Hark and Sammo Hung. One particularly sly scene features a director in shades who could only be a stand-in for Wong Kar Wai.

Popular on Variety

The Chinese cinema in-jokes, however, are merely peripheral to the film’s straightforward story of a man and his amah, one of an honored breed of Chinese domestic helpers known for their lifelong service to a single family. Chun-tao (Ip), whom everyone calls Ah Tao, has spent 60 years working for several generations of the Leung family. When Ah Tao suffers a stroke, she quits her job and asks her sole current master, Roger (Lau), to help her move into a nursing home.

As Ah Tao adjusts to a new environment and routine, Roger, a bachelor and film producer, finds himself taking on an active role in looking after her. One of the most charming and instructive aspects of “A Simple Life” is how little he resents this arrangement, matter-of-factly upholding the local tradition of caring for one’s elders. He doesn’t want to neglect Ah Tao, and she doesn’t want to impose on him — an arrangement that works out in the best possible way, as Roger realizes how much he needs her still.

Shifting easily from the broad comedy of Ah Tao’s interactions with a randy, overly gregarious friend to the sobering near-everyday reality of death and deteriorating health in the nursing home, the loose-limbed film has a baggy structure characteristic of Hui’s wide-ranging ensemblers. Yet the story’s essential regard for individual dignity makes even the supporting characters a pleasure to spend time with, particularly Ms. Choi (Qin Hailu), the home’s hard-working, emotionally guarded director.

Ip and Lau, who have been cast as mother and son in any number of films and TV programs, beautifully embody the slightly different dynamic of maid and master here. Whether teasing each other about their respective romantic prospects or attending the premiere of Roger’s latest film, the two thesps are enormously endearing to watch together. Ip, for her part, inhabits Ah Tao with unflappable dignity as well as a delightfully feisty attitude as she faces her twilight years head-on.

The final scenes scrupulously avoid milking the situation for pathos, and are played with the warm, forthright emotion typical of the story as a whole. Similarly, the film neither sugarcoats nor uglifies the experience of assisted living, as production designer Albert Poon presents the nursing home as a no-frills place that serves its purpose. Sole craft element that pushes a bit too hard is Law Wing-fai’s score.

Yu Lik-wai’s crisp HD lensing looks good enough on the bigscreen to combat any charges that Hui is churning out Lifetime-level material. As usual, the helmer lavishes loving attention on the sights and sounds of food being prepared, to mouth-watering effect; while the film, at 117 minutes, could be shorter, none of these shots should be excised.

A Simple Life

Hong Kong

Production: A Distribution Workshop release of a Bona Entertainment Co., Focus Films, Sil-Metropole Organization presentation. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Kowloon.) Produced by Roger Lee, Chan Pui-wah, Ann Hui. Executive producers, Yu Dong, Andy Lau, Song Dai. Directed by Ann Hui. Screenplay, Susan Chan, Roger Lee.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Yu Lik-wai; editor, Kong Chi-leung, Manda Wai; music, Law Wing-fai; production designer, Albert Poon; costume designer, Boey Wong; sound designer (Dolby SRD), Tu Duu-chih; line producers, Zhang Hao, Sze Yeung-ping; associate producers, Nansun Shi, Cheung Hong-tat, Stephen Lam. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 5, 2011. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Special Presentations.) Running time: 117 MIN.

With: With: Andy Lau, Deanie Ip, Qin Hailu, Wang Fuli, Paul Chiang, Leung Tin, Wendy Yu, Eman Lam, Elena Kong, Jason Chan, Hui So-ying, Anthony Wong, Chapman To, Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark. (Cantonese, Mandarin, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Anais Bertrand on Producing Sundance Player

    Anais Bertrand on the Obstacles She Faced to Produce Sundance Player ‘Jumbo’

    Zoé Wittock’s debut feature, “Jumbo,” screening in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition, is also the first feature film produced by up-and-coming French producer Anais Bertrand, of Insolence Productions, who has cut her teeth on award-winning shorts, including winning the Procirep Short Film Producer Award last year. “Jumbo” is about a young woman, played by Noémie [...]

  • 'Parasite,' 'Jojo Rabbit' Win ACE Eddie

    'Parasite,' 'Jojo Rabbit' Win ACE Eddie Awards for Top Feature Films

    “Parasite” and “Jojo Rabbit” have won the top feature film trophies at the 70th Annual ACE Eddie Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Jinmo Yang won the dramatic feature category for “Parasite” over “Ford v Ferrari,” “Joker,” “The Irishman,” and “Marriage Story.” The victory marks the first time in ACE Eddie Awards history that a [...]

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Oscar Isaac Golden Globes 2016

    Film News Roundup: Oscar Isaac Joins Superhero Movie 'The Great Machine'

    In today’s film news roundup, Oscar Isaac boards “The Great Machine,” Keira Knightley joins “Silent Night” and “The Dog Doc” finds a home. CASTINGS Legendary has closed a deal for Oscar Isaac to star in and produce superhero saga “The Great Machine.” The project is based on Brian K. Vaughan’s comic book series “Ex Machina” [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    U.S. Movie Admissions Plunge 4.6% in 2019 Amid Box Office Decline

    U.S. movie admissions slid 4.6% last year to 1.24 billion, the second lowest admissions number during the current century, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has reported. North American box office for the year declined 4.1% to $11.4 billion, NATO said Friday. That figure was in line with the estimate released at the end [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'National Treasure 3' Moves Ahead From Disney, Jerry Bruckheimer

    Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer are moving ahead with a third “National Treasure” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner tapped to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write a fourth “Bad Boys” for Sony with Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. The “National [...]

  • Mike (WILL SMITH), Marcus (MARTIN LAWRENCE)

    'Bad Boys 4' in the Works at Sony Pictures

    Sony Pictures has launched early development of an untitled fourth “Bad Boys” movie with “Bad Boys for Life” screenwriter Chris Bremner returning to write the script. Bremner has also signed to write “National Treasure 3” for Disney with Jerry Bruckheimer producing. Bruckheimer produced the three “Bad Boys” and the two “National Treasure” movies. Bremner teamed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content