A Simple Life
AKA: Miss Peach, Sister Peach
Year of release: 2011
Director: Ann Hui
Producers: Roger Lee, Ann Hui, Jessica Chan, Nansun Shi, Cheung Hong-Tat, Stephen Lam
Writers: Roger Lee, Susan Chan
Cinematography: Nelson Yu
Editing: Kwong Chi-Leung, Wai Suk-Fan
Music: Law Wing-Fai
Stars: Andy Lau, Deannie Yip, Qin Hai-Lu, Wang Fu-Li, Paul Chun Pui, Leung Tin, Anthony Wong, Tsui Hark, Sammo Hung
Rated I for mild language
Movie Review Index
A winner of five 2011 Hong Kong Film Awards, including best picture, Ann Hui's A Simple Life is based on events in the life of producer Roger Lee, who also co-wrote the script. In the film, Andy Lau plays Roger Leung, a high-powered player in the Hong Kong movie scene, who finds himself becoming the caretaker of his family's housekeeper, Chung Chun-Tao (Deannie Yip). Even though it lacks the bombastic nature many people associate with Hong Kong cinema, this low-key drama is one of the best releases from the region in years.
Recently released on North American DVD and Blu-ray by Well Go USA, the story here perhaps has some more resonance given the news surrounding martial arts legend Gordon Liu's seeming mis-treatment by his family as he attempts to recover from a stroke. However, Ann Hui's soft touch when it comes to direction makes this a story that transcends time, language, and culture.
Simply put, if you are someone that has ever gone through the bittersweet cycle of pain and joy of dealing with aging relatives, there will be elements which will draw you in. This is not a feel-good movie, it is not a very exciting one, but I can say without any hyperbole that is it one of the most true pieces of cinema that I have watched in some time.
A Simple Life, as is fitting its' title, is not a film comprised of big moments. In the handling of Chung's life, we don't get the presentation of things like her organizing and rallying her fellow nursing home residents. Rather, the emphasis is one small details like Roger and Chung's life, like taking a walk or having a chat, which shows their growing relationship. Even the major events, especially as to how Roger decides to handle a major deterioration in Chung's well-being, are handled almost at a distance.
This is the opposite of how many directors would approach this type of story, but Hui's style brings forth some real emotions from her actors. Andy Lau, who frankly was quite wooden and dull in his early years, accomplishes so much with just some basic looks and gestures. It is wonderful to see just how far he has progressed as an actor, and he was well deserving of his Best Actor HKFA.
As the other anchor of the movie and fellow HKFA winner, Deannie Yip -- an actress most better known, at least to western audiences, as a supporting player in many 1980's Sammo Hung action/kung fu films -- truly shines. Chung is a character that could have gone many ways, most of them being some sort of poorly cranked out TV movie level overdramatics. Yet Yip's performance, which -- like many other elements of this film -- runs under the radar, depending on subtlety, brings forth a character full of layers that is sympathetic and perplexing at the same time.
In other words, it's like someone you might meet in real life, and not the pre-packaged pablum far too many film-makers are projecting towards this day and age of audiences weaned on what they can gather from status updates and hashtags. A Simple Life is not a movie for those who want cool scenes or memorable lines; though not really overly "arty", it is very much the sort of release for viewers that like to dwell upon their cinematic journeys, instead of just switching to the next entry in their instant Netflix queue.