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August 20, 2013

Floating City

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Fu cheng
Yim Ho - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

At the very least, I would recommend Floating City as a reminder that there is more to Chinese language cinema than genre films. Well Go USA also deserves kudos for providing a US release. For a good number of viewers, the film will also serve as something of a history lesson about the last decades of Hong Kong as a British colony. That the film also is from the point of view of a Chinese man growing up in those years also serves as a counter-balance to such films viewing Hong Kong from western eyes such as Love is a Many Splendored Thing or The World of Suzie Wong.

Yim's story is taken from from those who lived during that era, a fictionalized account of race, class and national identity. Chun, as a baby, is sold by his mother, who has lost everything else sailing alone to Hong Kong. Adopted by a fishing family, Chun lives on a small boat. The docking area is packed with other small boats owned by other fishing families. They are considered a marginalized class in Hong Kong, with only a few leaving the boats to work and live on land. After a failed attempt to learn how to read in a church school, the illiterate Chun bluffs his way into being an errand boy for a large British firm. Chun eventually rises within the company, gaining a formal education, finally becoming the Chinese face of the company following the handover of Hong Kong.

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The film begins and ends on water. Chun shares with his adoptive mother how to write the ideogram for sea. Water serves as the source of life and the cause of death for people whose livelihood depends on catching fish. Historically, Hong Kong developed its importance when international trade was done by sea. Chun's family is Christian, and there is also a scene of baptism.

Racism comes from both sides as the half-Caucasian Chun is called "Mixed" by some of the members of his own family, and "Half Breed" by a British boss. Aaron Kwok's hair is given a reddish tint in the lead role. Even as he rises within company ranks, including invitation to an exclusive British club, Chun feels like he's an outsider. Sometimes his outsider status is forced on him as when he learns that he is considered an alien, even when in possession of a British passport.

One of the best scenes, though, is of Chun's wife, Tai, also a former boat person. Invited to a Christmas party, Tai hides her deafness by removing her hearing aid. Escorted by the socially adept Fion, Tai awkwardly smiles as the other wives compare Chun with their husbands. When a maid comes in with tea, it is Tai who takes the pot and serves the other wives, revealing that even with even with the outward appearance of upward mobility, there is an ingrained sense of social inferiority.

The scene is also one that makes me wish that there was more of Charlie Young as Tai. As the British boss who both helps and hinders Chun's entry into the world of business, David Peatfield comes off as thuggish, and the comments about his character's name, Dick, are equally unsubtle. There are also times when Chun's ascent is too elliptical, in need of some explanation. There is also the wonderful scene showing Chun and his British business mentor in a car accident, revealing all there needs to know about how class and race worked in colonial Hong Kong. Yim also includes documentary footage from the various points in the story, the best of which show the various tensions between the British and Chinese.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 20, 2013 07:38 AM