« Coffee Break | Main | The GoodTimesKid »

August 04, 2009

The Way We Are

way we are 1.jpg

The Durian may provide an imperfect metaphor for Ann Hui's film. What is certain is that that is a smaller scale, more intimate film than some of the other honored Hong Kong films of 2008. That Hui won again for Best Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards is even more amazing considering that she was competing against not only John Woo for his first Red Cliff film, but also Johnny To for his sweet change of pace caper Sparrow, and Wilson Yip, director of Best Picture winner Ip Man. Then again, perhaps comparison with a durian fruit might be appropriate considering that a quiet film about everyday people in Hong Kong is less easily approachable than the more easily consumable films of Hui's peers.

The film takes place in Tin Shui Wai, in a section of rundown apartments literally across the tracks from the glitzier apartment complexes. Hui observes the life of a middle aged widow, Kwai, who works at a supermarket, supporting herself and her son, On. Taking place in July and August, On either hangs around his apartment or with friends, awaiting results of his high school graduation exam that determines his future, of going for further education or into the work force. An older woman, known as "Granny" gets a job at the supermarket through Kwai. A recent resident at the public housing apartment building that Kwai and On live in, Granny eventually becomes an unofficial family member. There is no dramatic arc, or plot, but instead a recreation of everyday life.

Using a high definition video camera and available lighting, The Way We Are deliberately recalls Hui's roots as a documentary filmmakers. The film could be said to be about the events and rituals that bring families together - dinners, funerals, and holidays. The film ends with the three principle characters sharing a dinner to celebrate the August Moon Festival. The most dramatic moment in the film is when Kwai travels with Granny, who hopes to visit her only grandson, Kit. Kit's mother, Granny's daughter, is dead. Not only is Kit unavailable to meet with his grandmother, but Kit's father, Granny's former son-in-law, is abrupt in his treatment of Granny, disregarding her feelings for her only relative. It is after that unsatisfactory reunion that the relationship between Kwai and Granny is cemented.

Kwai's own mother considers her daughter foolish for sacrificing her own future to pay for the education of her two brothers, both of whom have achieved significant material success. Through everything that she goes through, Kwai remains cheerful and resilient. There is a moment when the film breaks to a montage of still photos of women at work at the kind of jobs that have minimal wages and are often physically demanding. Again recalling Hui's earlier work for television, The Way We Are is about the people normally not the subject of either documentary or dramatic films. The dialogue is unforced, virtually belying the existence of a script by Lou Shu-wa, or the professionalism of star Paw Hee-ching.

The film was in fact originally conceived of as a television production, only coming to fruition due to last minute funding from producer-director Wong Jing. Kwai's brothers are portrayed by two filmmakers, Vincent Chui and Clifton Ko. What has made The Way We Are different from the other films by Hong Kong filmmakers is that the film was not part of the general pattern of films designed for the larger Chinese language or Asian markets. Even so, just as there was a universality to Vittorio De Sica's story about a stolen bicycle, Ann Hui's Hong Kong is not so distant our our own streets.

way we are 2.jpg

The Way We Are is available from HK Flix.

Posted by peter at August 4, 2009 12:44 AM