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A Simple Life - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Tao jie

Hong Kong 2011


Ann Hui

Deanie Ip
Andy Lau
Qin Hailu
Wang Fuli
Eman Lam
Anthony Wong
Paul Chun
Elena Kong
Hui So-Ying
Jason Chan
Sammo Hung
Tsui Hark
Chapman To
Raymond Wong
Yu Dong
Ning Hao

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A Simple Life

Story: For sixty years Ah Tao (Deanie Ip) is already working as a housemaid for the family of movie producer Roger (Andy Lau). The whole family has emigrated to America, only Roger has stayed and Ah Tao takes care of him every day if he isn't in Mainland China for work. One day Ah Tao suffers a stroke and is restricted in her movements, though. After a few months of physiotherapy she is supposed to be able to nearly move like before, but Ah Tao is aware of the fact that most times a stroke is followed by other ones and so she explains to Roger that she wants to retire. Even though the movie producer isn't happy at first with Ah Tao's decision to live at a nursing home he gives in to her wish. He visits her as often as he can manage and takes care of her in a loving manner as much as his work allows him to. Ah Tao doesn't want to cause inconvenience to anyone, but her stroke and her advanced age limit her in what she can do on her own, forcing her to rely on help from others more than she wants to. At the same time Roger tries to give back to his former housemaid as much love as he received from her.

Review: The many laurels the movie got, especially from foreign critics, aren't unjustified. "A Simple Life" is an extraordinary drama as it tells its story in an unusually reserved and honest fashion, without the viewer emotionally being hold at bay all of the time. The path female director Ann Hui takes with her adaptation of a story that is based on the experience of movie producer Roger Lee, is one that demands courage since you easily could have been tempted by the story to put a tearjerking drama for the masses on the big screen. Since this isn't the case "A Simple Life" surely will stick in your mind, also thanks to a very strong leading actress. Yet, it most likely won't appeal to the average moviegoer.

A Simple Life - Film Screenshot 11

The strength of director Ann Hui ("Night and Fog") without a doubt lies in her skill to tell a simple story and bestow upon it the enchantment of something special. In the end her drama feels like an arthouse movie that takes a lot of time to show everyday activities, but interestingly enough grants important events only little time or makes them take place off-screen. The same applies to the constant depletion of Ah Tao's health. This is a topic that isn't greatly celebrated in order to arouse strong emotions, but takes place suddenly, in a condensed manner, is simply skipped, hold back from us. It's as if it wasn't Ah Tao's process of dying but her life that is supposed to be shed light on. A life that in its late years more or less centers around death waiting at the doorstep, though.

A Simple Life - Film Screenshot 12

Despite the very leisure pacing there is never boredom taking over. That is mainly the achievement of the very sensitive directing and actress Deanie Ip, who plays the former housemaid with lots of subtle nuances. She doesn't want to be a burden to anyone, therefore she retires, seems to share a cold relationship with Roger and yet at a few points a warm mother-son-relationship flashes up. One of the biggest strengths of the movie, ironically also one of its weaknesses, is just this relatioship as it might at first glance seem rather cold. Roger lovingly takes care of Ah Tao, but sometimes you still get the feeling that a thick wall is standing between the two. Some of Roger's decisions even seen outright heartless, but actually they are pragmatic and realistic. What would have turned us at Roger in another drama even brings us closer to him here.

This apparent coldness or realistic approach can in fact put some viewers off. However, if you are willing to dive deeper into the core of the film you will realize that under all of this a very special, honest and also heart-warming relationship is burrowed. Andy Lau ("Shaolin") does his part pretty neatly and actually "A Simple Life" should have been carried by both main actors, but simply too often Deanie Ip steals the show. Despite the lack of emotionally involving scenes, you will be especially moved a lot by the ending and you start to wonder how this emotionally distant film manages to do that. Ann Hui's unorthodox choice of focus in the end proves to be an extremely worthwhile one.

A Simple Life - Film Screenshot 13

How honest the drama is becomes obvious in the title alone. There are no big promises made, we really are just presented with a simple life and yet even the most simple of lives offers enough material for a great movie. That is if you know how to convey the story. Ann Hui knows how and at the same time she inserts many cultural pecularities into her movie, sheds some light on aging and homes for the elderly, also doesn't refrain from implementing subtle humor, surprises with cameo appearances of well-known Hong Kong stars, holds everything together with a fantastically told story around a relationship taken right out of real life and works without any emotionalism, eventually touching us even more that way. Maybe not a drama to everyone's liking, but still a great film.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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