|The Way We Are (Poster)|
In an earlier post on this blog Tina Kaufman remarked that in following Hui’s career she had seen “the very moving A Simple Life (2011) when the SFF screened it, and in the last year or so I saw the absolutely lovely A Golden Era (2014). But in between those films she's made many more - I'm going to have to try and track some down!”
One such of those is The Way We Are, a 2008 movie made by Ann Hui in Hong Kong and possibly never screened here, and certainly not in the multiplexes in the manner in which the major Chinese films now get released. It was showing on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Australia and the program guide listed it under “Classic Asian” (I think).
In many ways it forms a tandem relationship with A Simple Life mentioned above. Mrs Cheung (Hee Ching Paw) is a widow, in her fifties I guess. She has a son who has completed his high school studies and is slacking round the flat over summer while he waits for his results. His attitude improves when he attends some sort of religious-inspired counselling course. Mrs Kwai (Chan Lai-wun) is also a widow but a decade or more older. They meet when the older woman, a former street vegetable seller, gets a job in the supermarket where Mrs Cheung manages the fruit and veg section and where she demonstrates her ability to carve up a Durian melon. Slowly the two women become friends and by the end of the movie they each have more affection for the other than they do for the various family members whose occasional company has to be endured. Both women slowly reveal that they don’t like their relatives very much.
The two widows come to rely on each other. The son goes OK in his finals. At the end, the camera tracks past them into a shot of the Hong Kong night from the high rise flat where all three were sharing a meal. A simple and realistically treated story all over in a very quick 94 minutes.
Ann Hui’s direction of the script by Shiu-wa Lou is near flawless. Short but succinct scenes, a subtle narrative of domestic matters which reveals some greater truths about why people like and don’t like each other, it’s a work of fine art played in a minor key and needless to say probably lacking the oomph of plot twists that might have got it out into the multiplexes. The film is another piece of the near Balzacian portrait of Hong Kong and its people, past and present, that mostly comprise the director’s career. As Tina said, not enough attention has been paid to this major artist. She turned seventy this year and is still making brave movies, at least 27 features according to IMDb and more shorts, docos and TV work on top of that. It’s time.