A Simple Life (Tao jie, Hong Kong, 2011)

Life is other people

Andy Lau, a big action star in East Asia, stars with Deannie Yip with this very effective melodrama. She plays Ah Tao, who’s been a family maid since a teenager and played a role in bringing up Lau’s character. Early in the film she suffers a stroke and insists in being put into a ‘home’ as she can no longer serve the family. Such family maids are, apparently, relatively common in Hong Kong.

Lau plays Roger, a film producer (many of the glitterati of the HK film industry appear as themselves) but finds himself mistaken for an air conditioning engineer and taxi driver. The film suggests that the ‘celebs’ are just the same as everyone else and Roger finds himself increasingly drawn into a friendship with Ah Tao and the previous master-servant dichotomy increasingly blurs. An interesting extra-textual detail is that Yip has often played Lau’s mother.

Ann Hui, a rare female from Hong Kong’s ‘new wave’, direction emphasises the ‘slices of life’ of Ah Tao’s retirement and fleshes out the various characters who inhabit the home. The aging population need care, both physical and social.

I watched the film with a Taiwanese and it was interesting to discuss cultural references. For example, Roger discusses, with his sister, paying for Ah Tao’s funeral before she dies and, later, in western terms, acts in a callous manner. For ‘eastern’ audiences, of course, this behaviour is entirely normal and the only puzzle is westerner’s reaction.

Lau, against type, is great but the film belongs to Deannie Yip’s brilliant performance.

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