A Simple Life
- Director: Ann Hui
- Genre: Drama
- Cert: PG
- Details: Hong Kong/ 118 mins
An old maid has a stroke and asks to be put into a nursing home to await what she expects her second and ultimately her death. Sounds like a downer, right? The surprise is that A Simple Life is as charming as they come.
Roger (Lau) might be a forty-year-old bigshot movie producer but he hasn't really grown up. He uses a backpack instead of a briefcase, a receptionist mistakes him for a handyman because he doesn't wear a suit and tie and he still relies on his maid Ah Tao (Yip), who has faithfully served his family for sixty years, to cook and clean for him. When she suffers a stroke and retires, she asks Roger to place her in a nursing home. This upheaval makes Roger realise how much he depended on Tao and how much he owes her.
A Simple Life should be easy to get into but it's not. That's down to the title sequence that supposed to bring the audience up to speed on the characters but they zip by at such a pace Johnny 5 would have a hard time keeping up. Because some important knowledge is missing, the first couple of scenes don't register and it takes longer to get a grasp on the characters and their relationship to each other. Once we're up to speed, A Simple Life is a joy. Hui finds the sweet spot between depression and humour. The nursing home is, bluntly, a shithole. The 'rooms' are hastily assembled walls with curtains for doors, there's no toilet roll and some are left to just sit in chairs without stimulation. With a number of patients suffering from dementia, it's almost One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest if McMurphy was a timid and polite elderly Asian woman. Depressing, yes, but there is always humour undercutting the squalid setting and the ultimate horrible inevitability of it all.
It can get repetitive, however. Scenes mount of top of each other and say the same thing that the last one said - Tao is getting old and the nursing home is terrible, Tao is getting older and the nursing home is still terrible. Hui could have used that time to explore Roger's emotionally stunted state but nothing more than a cursory glance is given to him. The subtle dealing of it is impressive but a punchier address would have added to the movie - the story does belong to them both after all.
Review by Gavin Burke | 14:04 | Friday 3rd August 2012 | Movie Review
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