Written by Susan Chan and Yan Lam Lee
Directed by Ann Hui
New on Blu-ray February 26 from Well Go USA is the multi-award winning drama about a lifelong servant and the relationship she develops after a life altering incident: A Simple Life. The film stars Andy Lau and Deanie Ip in a tale that covers many similar themes to director Michael Haneke’s Amour, but from a much less dour place, as this film is a mostly about the blossoming of their relationship that is years old but has never fully developed into the family it becomes.
Roger (Lau) is a successful movie producer. Ah Tao (Ip) has worked for Roger’s family as a nanny and maid over the course of four generations. Now she is only looking after Roger who is the only member of the family still residing in Hong Kong. When Roger comes home to find Ah Tao has suffered a severe stroke and is no longer able to take care of herself, he agrees to help her relocate to a nursing home. Ah Tao moves in and begins acquainting herself with a new ‘family’, the brisk but fundamentally kindly supervisor Ms. Choi and a motley crew of elderly residents, including the dapper Uncle Kin, the jealous Auntie Kam and the good-hearted dialysis patient Mui Gu. Giving even more time and attention to Ah Tao’s needs and pleasures, Roger comes to realise how much she means to him. But the closer the two get the more Ah Tao’s health begins to deteriorate.
A Simple Life is a very uncomplicated movie. The film knows it lives off the relationship between the two leads and the chemistry they create, which comes in waves. The script is smart and tight and keeps the focus where it needs to be without fearing to take interesting little side excursions into the lives of Ah Tao’s fellow residents. Do we need to know what Uncle Kin does with all the money he borrows, what is going on with Auntie Kam’s family, or even need to meet Mui Gu doting mother? No, but these little details help flesh out the world where Ah Tao has chosen to make home and give the nursing home itself a world of its own and director Hui makes it believable and real.
Deanie Ip is fantastic here. Her performance is vibrant and engaging, the type of performance that has you happily following her story even though you already know from the beginning that it can only be a heart breaking conclusion. Ip infuses her character with little nuances and reactions that make her even more endearing; a conversation about dating between her and Lau’s Roger is infused with quirky charm based on her performance alone. And the end of the film, where it could be lost to over dramatization, it goes the opposite way into an endearing finale. Lau manages to support Ip solidly here, as his performance as Roger is not a flashy one, but deals a lot with interior moments and emotions. Roger’s ever growing devotion to Ah Tao is manifested through the more entangled and invested he becomes in her welfare and her life in general.
The setting of the nursing home works very well. It encompasses the parallels in Ah Tao’s life, being used to living in smaller surroundings, and the lack of thought that can be put into our elderly as they get put into undermanned and almost ramshackle environments to live out their years under the supervision of others. We see many examples of how the home is not adequately suited to take care of the residents as well as it should, but without the money to afford better accommodations the occupants of the home must do what they can to continue on. Roger’s apartment, tiny as it is, also shows that despite his success he still desires to live a simple life himself. Director Hui demonstrates a delicate yet masterful hand here, the direction used to guide and not interrupt the story.
Filled with some fun cameo appearances from top people in the Chinese film industry like Sammo Hung and Tsui Hark, A Simple Life also deals with the film industry from more of the workman-like side of the business, without the glitz and glamour with which it frequently presents itself. A Simple Life may be simple on premise but it is strong on execution and features some excellent performances. And backed by the strong performances of the leads the film stays true and engaging throughout. Although the disc itself contains no special features, the Blu-ray is well worth a purchase. A Simple Life is a definite recommend.
Till Next Time
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